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Monday, April 16, 2012

Walking On-Line

After spending my two to three hours on-line each morning, I walk for exercise and enjoyment.  The exercise is calorie burning, I hope, but is mainly for increasing muscle strength in limbs under-used due to spine and nerve injuries. Because I need not walk for speed, enjoyment is primary—a delightful reversal that came with retirement.  And at least twice a week I treat myself to the Schuylkill River Walk where I pretend I am in Paris walking along the Seine.  There, enjoyment takes one or more of (1) browsing the sights and smells en route, (2) thinking, and (3) talking with a co-walker.  Lately I have been thinking about the many individuals I see who are taking cell phones and internet devices for a walk, a multitude that includes loners, groups, and both dog and baby walkers.  I think the callers probably can double task with looking around, whereas the texters may be playing a blind kinetic game.  I feel compassion for the dogs and babies who are missing out on interaction with their significant others of the moment.  What do young children learn from this pattern, I wonder, but look!  The two over there—younger than 10 years old for sure—are also walking their texts or texting their walks!  

I brought up this problem here earlier this month in "Muse . . . ."  which was inspired by a poem  Today I am inspired by new ideas, anecdotes, and scientific language from Stephen Marche's essay “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” in the May 2012 on-line issue of ATLANTIC magazine.  Mr. Marche's analysis includes an examination of recent studies on social connectivity and loneliness. 

I now see the problem is really a paradox that we ourselves create. 

The paradox of social communication in our times is this: When home alone we use social networks to talk; and when out in society, many of us turn on a device and pretend we are home alone.  It is as if we enjoy the selves we send out for others to know much much more than the physical self who could be right there.  Does this absentee friendship fulfill an ego need for absolute image control?  Marche addresses "narcissism" as the flip side of a popular new brand of loneliness that Americans both create and  regret.  Social networks do not create isolationists, but they do take the tendency to a new--and to  this reader--dangerous level.  

I am among the endangered; I could disappear from real life entirely without anyone noticing!  I enjoy using Face Book partly because my confidantes are long distance.  (Though my cell has its free hours, I have not broken the "long-distance taboo" to actually use it.)  I live alone and have a life-long hermit tendency that I indulge now in retirement. I luxuriate in solitude, in the days that go by without hearing the phone ring, in lurking on-line with all messengers disengaged.  And I am caught up in "The Last Big Waves" of danger as well: I watch senseless and endless TV and play hours of silly computer games.  One good thing--a point made more poignant by reading  "Is Facebook Making Us Lonely"--I play Scrabble on-line with actual people, and they would notice within a few hours if I did not play my turns. 


1 comment:

Eric Chast said...

I am one of those people walking along the road with my cell phone. Not so much when I'm with a group of people, because I do feel that would be rude, but in instances where I'm walking alone I'm planning the next encounter with a friend. I don't know if it leads to a faster pace, but it does lead to missing out on a few moments of solitude where you can relax and take in the environment around you.

I think any evolution in culture will have its positives and negatives. The negatives of being plugged-in 24/7 will be lessened if myself and others with smartphones and ipods actively work to take a few minutes to look up from our walk and notice that the trees in the Boston Common are in full bloom. I certainly hope that this power over our ability to communicate with anyone, anytime, anywhere won't lead to a generation of kids who have to fight a growing level of narcissism over the level of attention received through online mediums, but if I took a step back and looked at myself, I don't think an assessment like that is far off for many.

Love the blog!