Seeking Solitude

These days it’s hard to find time for ourselves. The Open Debate in the back in this month’s FastCompany struck a chord with me. Shannon, a high school senior, says the following:

Many teenagers instant-message instead of having actual relationships. Everyone rushes through the streets jabbering on their cell phones, iPods stuck in their ears. No one has time to be close to, well, anyone.

I, along with John Seely Brown (former Chief Scientist at Xerox Corp.) disagree to some extent. As he mentions, instant messaging and the internet allow us to establish extremely dense networks. To many, this brings us closer to more people with more ease. Take me for example: I work under two seperate individuals that I have never met in person, I communicate with friends studying in Spain, and I am in constant contact with my friends at school (despite living 20m away). I think Shannon is trying to date herself without having the required years to effectively do it…

But, what exactly is an “actual relationship?” Are we to suggest my relationships with Noah, Jeremy, and Jim are fake? Certainly not. A relationship doesn’t always require physical interaction. Sure, it’s become clear that there is an important difference between working with people in an office and working remotely from home. The point being, we’d all prefer Shannon’s “actual relationships”; but we can’t discount the value of any other relationship.

I agree though, people do run around with cell phones attached to their ears. As mentioned earlier, we rush from A to B to C back to A. Certainly it begins to wear on us. We’re constantly connected and constantly ‘doing’. Put simply, our hectic lifestyles require some sort of solitude.

I realized as I started my biphasic sleep cycle that I lost some important ‘down time’. Instead of lying in bed and thinking to myself for who-knows-how-long I had to start forcing myself to stop and fall asleep quickly. This way I woke up at the correct time and didn’t throw my schedule off. Frankly, that sucks. I need some of that time to reflect and escape the nonsense around me.

I can walk to class and turn on my iPod, I can sit at work and listen to it too. This doesn’t mean I’m trying to shut people out and dissolve my “actual relationships”, I’m just seeking solitude. Taking some time to stop and think (or stop thinking) seems necessary. I forgot where I read this but it’s recently been shown that after taking in a lot of information the brain tries to rewind and re-process it. If we never have that downtime our brains don’t seem to develop as well as they could. That thumb-twiddling time is important!

I don’t know what I’m going to do about getting to sleep, though. Perhaps I’ll set aside 20 or 30 minutes to just lie there before I expect to fall asleep. I’m not sure yet. I just know that I need some of that time back… I need solitude.