How to be Alone in the 21st Century

he least that so many people, young people in particular, do not know how to be alone. Almost every time I have seen people by themselves, they have been texting, or looking nervously at their phones to check the time. It can be assumed that these people are waiting for friends, and do not know how to fill the space in between.

I am not immune to this sort of perpetual “communication” – I sometimes text before class starts, or become distracted by social media when I should be writing a paper. More and more I am getting the impression that our generation looks for the same sort of instant gratification and immediate attention among friends “in real life” as we do virtually.

Wishing to be “liked” in the same way as a Facebook status is not necessarily a bad thing (everyone wants on some level to know that they matter to other people), but the increasing need for constant, instantaneous indulgence creates a causal relationship to how vain and shallow we can be as a society.

If I go a few hours without checking my phone, or logging into Facebook, I sometimes feel like I’ve become a modern-day Thoreau to my friends. Ironically, their typical question is “Where have you been?” My only thought is, “I’ve been present.”

I don’t want to deride technology and its users completely – I would be a hypocrite if I did, and after all, technological advances are amazing and very helpful. But once and a while I think it would serve as a good experiment to unplug completely for a day.

Yes, the world will move a bit slower than you’re used to, but it will also put the challenge on you (not on a piece of technological equipment) to contact your friends. When we disengage with our virtual selves, we not only realize how little influence our technological personalities have in real life, but we also realize how to engage with our actual selves. And when there are no buzzes, beeps, or rings to distract us from that self-engagement, we re-discover the self we’ve had all along.