I spent the evening in San Francisco the other day at my son’s concert. Hadn’t been back there in awhile. I’ve been living in the mountains for about the past six years. I do come down out of the mountains fairly regularly, so it’s not as if I’m completely out of touch with the greater culture going on in our world. I also do read, listen to the radio, and watch television. And If I were to guess, I’d probably say I’m at least as conscious of our world as the next guy, and probably more so than most. Being retired, I have time on my hands to stay in touch. That’s one of the beauties of my circumstances.
Now, I’m not retired in the purest sense of the word. I spend a great deal of time writing books, music, and recording albums of my original songs. But I am retired from the daily hustle-bustle of the work-a-day world. And I like that part of retirement. I have lots of time on my hands to choose what I want to do on a particular day, in a particular week or month, etc. I am also alone quite often. It is not something I ever dread, but quite the contrary, it is something that I relish. I have time away from distraction, from noise and visual clutter, and from people. It is valuable time.
I never had to learn to be alone. I have always coveted alone time. It is something that is important to me; to every human being actually, whether they realize it or not. Aloneness allows the opportunity for self-reflection. It allows time for understanding and adjustment of who I am; my outlook, my behavior, my sense of my own equilibrium, my degree of self-acceptance or dissatisfaction. It allows time to listen to, and to actually hear, my own conscience, the still small voice within me; the one voice that is critical for every human being to hear. Some would say the voice of God. I would not trade my alone time for all the wealth in the world. It is the one thing that will give birth to the only kind of wealth that really matters.
I have a cell phone like almost everybody else these days. I make calls, text, check email, send photos etc. But when I’m out in the world I observe, and participate in, that world to one degree or another. Where I am not (when I’m out in that world) is on my phone. As necessary, yes, but not because of my own anxiety, for my own entertainment, or for a pervasive need just to not be alone. Invariably, the more connected I would become, the more of myself I would lose.
What I have been observing most everywhere (and particularly the other night in San Francisco because it was so much more exaggerated than in many other places) is the dearth of alone time that people have these days. Not by a deluge of inadvertent circumstances, but by choice. Yes, by choice. And I am sad about it. Very sad. I noticed people alone, and in groups, being connected to others outside of their own immediate circumstances. Everybody was on their phones, talking, texting, checking emails, taking pictures of their surroundings, sending pictures of their surroundings, taking selfies, playing games; taking themselves out of their own present to be somewhere else, to be in another reality. What they were not doing is . . . . . observing their own surroundings, observing others, talking to other people, even their own friends. I saw groups of five or six people congregated on the sidewalk in a little circle, but nobody was talking to each other. Everyone was on the phone. I saw people waiting in line to get into a club. They were on the phone. I saw people in the windows of restaurants and café’s. They were on the phone. I saw loners waiting for a cab, or a bus. They were on their phones. I saw people on their phones while crossing busy streets, never even looking where they were going, or checking to see if a car was coming. I even saw a father pushing an infant in a very small wobbly stroller through an intersection with cars coming from three different directions; a very large and dangerous intersection, even for somebody paying attention. I watched the man very closely. He never once, not once, looked up from texting on his phone. I wanted to snatch the baby up and give him to someone more conscious of the child’s wellbeing. More conscious period. Obviously I couldn’t.
We’re no longer alone.
Yes, nobody has to be alone anymore. And very few will choose to be. They choose to always be connected. I pity them. They will never know the beauty of being alone. They will never know themselves; truly know themselves. They will never know self-reflection, as would be necessary for the art and practice of pragmatic or objective thinking. At least not like would be possible otherwise. It’s a shame that the future world will be ruled by the judgment and guidance of people who are stunted, only partially developed, as deep as a puddle rather than a well.
For this I grieve.