“Live together, die alone.” The famous quote from our hero, Jack, in Lost. I thought the quote came from someone famous but I can only find Jack. Well, he is famous (if fictional). So are our Facebooked and Twittered lives, you might say. You might also say that Lost is based on a series of cliches, but one thing that really gives it cachet and substance as a truth-telling vehicle is on the allegorical level. Things that happen on the island are isolated and intensified in a way that reveals us to ourselves in microcosm. Things are smaller and therefore more intensified on the island. We can see our larger, more complicated culture in the tensions, alliances and values of those cut adrift, those who seek to thrive versus merely survive.
Exploring the difference between being alone versus lonely–a major psychic difference–is currently a sexy subject. Perhaps some of the recent buzz has to do with sociologist Eric Klinenberg’s release, “Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone.” Here he is in a recent interview on the subject.
The social media made big promises about how big our and connected our social lives would be. So is the growing loneliness trend ironic? Perhaps, but is it really so surprising? Whatever it is, people seem to enjoy being connected but also keeping people at arm’s length, and the current generation barely knows how to maintain a face-to-face conversation.
How true is all this for the writer? It’s well documented, and patently obvious, that a writer works in isolation. Much of this is a “call” to some respect, a desire to be alone in order to suss out those designs taking shape in our noggins. Some of it is just part of the grind. The writer-as-loner image certainly plays to stereotypes, but what we now have with the unbelievable power of technology devices like smart phones and all the ensuing social media apps, is a phenomenon of being alone that Americans in particular now experience at rates never seen before. Eight times more Americans are single after 25, for instance, than compared to 1950, according to “The Disconnect: Why Are So Many Americans Living Alone,” and with far less social stigma. In many respects, social technology allows us to live the American Dream of complete independence, and self-invention, but are we lonely because we want to be? Or is it a result of our unexamined lives? The latest Atlantic feature article explores just that.
Writers aren’t necessarily lonely because they’re tapped into meaning-making activities. That’s what everyone needs, it would seem. Not merely being accessed, or having the means to rant about a given pet project on one’s status update, but being plugged into communities with others who value you and what you do. Not fans so much, but your family and friends. A person, after all, is not an island.