The Solitude Project (March 24 through June 24, 2010)

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Summary: I have begun to wonder the power of solitude in our day and age. However, rather than some project where you go completely without contact, or completely without social sites, or some other extremes, the plan is to merely redirect some of the energy spent on social connections back into self-development, quietude, and peace. To perform this miracle of the modern age, I will use a simple Quadrant system. The time spent upon secondary contact (meaning all contact not fully developed or fulfilling) will be fourthed. The new free time will have new direction.

You can now follow my progress on this project via Google Docs (no sign in required). Or, you can scroll down to the bottom of this page and get updates (below the signature at the bottom in a little embedded frame).

...for those wondering where the updates are, they are going along well. I have been sticking to the rules for the most part, maybe even exceeding the amounts. On average, I am about 1.5 hours a day in quiet solitude and contemplation, and kind of often spending less than 30 minutes on the social sites and time wasters.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

(19:09:51 CDT)

The Solitude Project (March 24 through June 24, 2010)

I cannot help but think (and mind you, this is brainstorming) that our world has seen three epochs of socialization. The first epoch of socialization might be call the "necessity epoch" [see Update #2]. We came together during times of ritual, times of market, and times of lovemaking. Most of our time was spent in at least quasi-solitary pursuits. Hunters and Fisherman stayed quiet in their duties. Farmers were spread upon their fields. Even people like orators and artists spent much of their time alone, honing their craft.

The second epoch was the "urbanization epoch". During this time, humans started congregating into larger and larger cities. Work became factory-based and industrial. No longer was it three or four men per dozen acres, it was dozens of men in a small room. People began living in apartments: not just at night, but continuously bound by walls. We still had ways to distance ourselves from others when needed, but it became a little harder. We might have quiet, but if we listened long enough we would surely hear others nearby [see Update #3]. Not only did we come closer together, but it just seemed more expected. The first epoch lasted thousands of years, the second lasted only hundreds.

Now we have entered the "networked epoch", where socialization is no longer an act to achieve, but instead an assumed necessity to existence. People who are disconnected are treated as ignorant, loners, outcasts. Jobs require 24/7 communication. Email follows us to the beach. Cell phones are now so much a part of who we are, that we assume that people without them are ill prepared to handle life. Both the personal computer and the cell phone are a generation old, and have already began to dictate the flow of humanity.

I cannot also help but to think that the following things are true:

  • That social networking does not substitute for actual contact.
  • That the emphasis on short, fast, broken communication with little to no chance for editing later forces us to treat our own words as throwaway while simultaneously driving us to say less and take more time doing so.
  • That the emphasis on near constant and frantic non-personal contact has lead to us never being able to feel "turned off"; it tricks us to thinking that we are thrust out into the public eye: always self-conscious.
  • That we go so far as to treat those with normal levels of human contact as lonely, boring, and ill fitted.
  • That our decline in attention spans, our need to reaffirm that there are no new messages (and there are few times where there really are no new messages) deprives us the ability to stay focused on the task we are doing, to take pleasure in our work. Any time spent with one thing is time neglecting hundreds of other things.
  • That by doing this, it deprives us of the most meaningful aspects of human nature: personal contact, creation of art, self-improvement, reading full and complete works, building and repairing our own home, farming, and so forth.
  • That we could direct all that nervous and shaken energy into other things, focused things, and still gleam just as much from social interaction: by focusing on the right sorts of social interaction when it does occur.

To show you that I am not merely being a cranky hermit, or indulging in the preliminary gasps of what that Japanese apparently call hikikomori, I refer you to this article from Psychology Today: "The Call for Solitude: How spending time alone can enhance intimacy. Being alone can fuel life." This article was written in the early portion of the rapid expansion years of the World Wide Web (by 1998, it was underway, for sure, but we had not yet quite settled into it the way we have now). Still, the first few lines of the third paragraph might have been written yesterday:

We live in a society that worships independence yet deeply fears alienation: our era is sped-up and overconnected. The earth's population has doubled since the 1950s, and in cities across the world, urban crowding and the new global economy have revolutionized social relationships. Cellular phones now extend the domain of the workplace into every part of our lives; religion no longer provides a place for quiet retreat but instead offers "megachurches" of social and secular amusement; and climbers on the top of Mt. McKinley whip out hand-held radios to call home.

I have tried the whole "I'll get off of Web 2.0 and Social Networks!" before. It only kind of works. Our society has kind of grown where it is impossible. As a librarian, being able to tap into and under social phenomenon is part of my new job description. It is not the enemy, it is merely that, to paraphrase Tyler Durden from Fight Club: "The tools we use end up using us."

My new plan is to merely take three months (from tomorrow until June 24th of this year) and to do the following steps: [see Update #1 for clarifications about this section]

  1. Take the time spent in social networks, mindless web-browsing, and in pointless/brainless media participation: and call that T
  2. Divide T into four parts: A, B, C, D.
  3. A = the time I can now dedicate to those things.
  4. B = time dedicated to quiet and to more fulfilling social contact. Listening to music, maybe watching less pointless TV or movies, writing letters/emails to people (with full paragraphs, etc). [see Update #4]
  5. C = time dedicated to quiet, and only something like instrumental (mostly ambient and classical) music being allowed. This time can be used for reading, for writing, or maybe exercising or studying. [see Update #4]
  6. D = time dedicated to solitude. Thoughtfulness. Not even reading will be allowed at this time, except only the sort that inspires thoughtfulness. Walking can be allowed. If music is present (and only music, nothing to distract the brain, only to help satisfy), it will be quiet and serene.
  7. Social contact and art/media in all non-T times will be generally chosen with some element of care. Things that enhance and refresh, that fulfill, will always be chosen over things that merely occupy or waste time. The idea is to move away from "merely", altogether, and to make most actions either more memorable, more purposeful, or more serene.

In my case, this means my time online (by online I mean chatting, Facebooking, and so forth) will be limited to one hour per day to start. My time in part B will be similarly set. Ditto for parts C and D. It also means I will spend one hour a day in proper solitude.

I am kind of looking forward to it.

Si Vales, Valeo

Update #1: As clarification, here are the terms. Absolutely all social site networking (Twitter, Facebook, Myspace) as well as all time-wasting media (TV for the sake of not thinking, browsing news sites just to see the comments, etc) are relegated to Part A. This literally means that after the time allotment for A is up, I will be unable to "waste" time in this way. As far as Part D goes, the implication is to embrace no-input, no-output solitude in principle: with the idea of notes and small amounts of reading and writing possible. All writing made is merely for the self. Nothing intended to be shared will be written down until after Part D is finished. [go ahead and see Update #4, below]

Update #2: It seems that the Epoch of Necessity might be split into the Epoch of Tribes and the Epoch of Nations. In the former, humanity tended to bond closely around the concept of the tribe. In the Epoch of Nation, this would have been toned down, slightly, and replaced by a more general sense of belonging. In tribal society, your social connectedness was directly related to immediate interaction. You proved yourself a hunter. By the time of nations, it became fuzzier.

Update #3: There is a corollary to the epochs: as socialization has become more prominent and overbearing, the focus on the individual as a concept has increased. Simultaneously, the ability to construct the individual has decreased.

Update #4: The potential doom of the project seems to be micromanagement. Rather than set aside a B and a C, where quiet time is around but not quite as structured: the idea is to get rid of them now, as specific times. Instead, the time freed up by limiting A to 1 hour will come into place.


If you wish to comment, please contact me in some way and I'll add it as soon as possible. Thanks!

file under (...on Me in 2010)
and (...on Life, Law, & Society)
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Written by Doug Bolden

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