Lonely Americans

I've been in California for three weeks now, and several people and books have already enriched my understanding of the relationship between technology, nature, and American culture. For example, loneliness had not been on my agenda, but some interesting readings have brought it into focus.

In 1980 Frederick W Turner wrote of his realisation that many people shared his own ignorance of the land and of how "a feeling of American loneliness began to insist upon itself, a crucial, profound estrangement of the inhabitants from their habitat …. it was as if those who had inherited the fruits of exploration and conquest had been left a troubled bequest, as if there were some unplacated, unmet spirit of place dividing them from an authentic and comforting possession here." (Turner, F.W. 1980 Beyond Geography: The Western Spirit against the Wilderness, New York: Viking p.5)

And loneliness afflicts not just the descendants of the invading colonisers, but also the invaded people themselves.  In Wild Hunger Bruce Wilshire quotes from a member of the Omaha Tribe who describes how in his youth the country was very beautiful, with many forms of life which were  "after their manner, walking, flying, leaping, running, playing all about… But now… sometimes I wake in the night, and I feel as though I should suffocate from the pressure of this awful… loneliness." (Wilshire, B. 1998 Wild Hunger: The Primal Roots of Modern Addiction, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield p.15)

I wonder where such loneliness appears in the history of computing and the internet? I wonder whether it is soothed by social networking and the digital village?

Postscript: perhaps that question is answered in part by an article I discovered just a few hours after writing this entry. Not sure if I agree with all of it, but it certainly adds to the discussion: The End of Solitude: As everyone seeks more and broader connectivity, the still, small voice speaks only in silence by William Deresiewicz in The Chronicle of Higher Education. January 30th 2009

5 thoughts on “Lonely Americans”

  1. during cynical moments, I have for years characterized the main freedoms available in the US as: 1) the freedom to shop; 2) the freedom to be lonely; 3) the freedom to be gunned down in the street. Just take stroll through a typical Cal suburbia (and if you aren’t arrested via a neighborhood watch program) you will see the hermetic houses containing hermetic lives that make civil society seem like an anarchists wet dream… you will likely see no pedestrians except possibly children too old to be contained and too young to drive… it arises IMHO from the contingencies of the nuclear family as a product of the military-industrial state where humans are resources to be scattered around the landscape in strategic locations to support that state — all with zero regard to any concept remotely resembling civil society…


  2. as for the solitude, you need to do a hike in the Mojave or perhaps in Death Valley where, when you stop, the silence comes slowly settling down from above to clot in your ears and only the creaking of bones, the rush of blood, and the electric hum of body are ‘heard.’ You will discover another dimension of life on this planet…


  3. John, Jody, thanks to both of you for these contributions. There’s a lot to think about here in terms of noise and silence. Re the Mojave – yes I have experienced this, and also had a similar feeling online.


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