- Dalton Conley, Cell Phone Weighs Down Backpack of Self-Discovery
I have written a bunch about the need for solitary time as a cost of being a creative — to gain mastery of complex skills, to think deeply — but Conley’s demonization of cell phones is too narrow.
It is the friends calling us that intrudes, and the struggle of the creative for a private space in which to practice is a struggle with those friends, and our desire to be with them. It’s not a struggle with movie houses, restaurants, or living rooms. It’s not cell phones, Tumblr, or Twitter that are distracting us, but other people, and ourselves, because we want to remain connected.
As Shakespeare has Julius Caesar tell us, ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings’.
My story is by no means unique. It has long been a rite of passage in our culture of rugged individualism to spend a summer in Europe, or to hike the Appalachian Trail, or to bike down the West Coast. It doesn’t matter how far you go, just as long as you disconnect, cut the umbilical cord, get lost and end up with stories to tell your kids someday (edited for public consumption, and perhaps a tad exaggerated). Time away from our social networks as young adults helps us figure out who we are, and become fully individual.
As of late, however, our time in the social wilderness has been eroded by omnipresent connectivity — that is, the mobile telecommunications device. And I’m afraid that with no solitude, we will become less, not more, connected to our friends and families. Without loneliness, our society will innovate less.
Today, we carry our phones with us almost all the time — so we can’t truly be alone.
Yet we all need solitude. It is necessary not only for individualism but also for developing self-awareness and intimacy. Let me explain.
Time spent alone allows us to see ourselves as others see us. It’s important to have a backstage — a safe, private space where we don’t have to worry about folks watching us, where we can let our hair down, practice our social routines and strike back against the indignations of life in the public square. The backstage is where our “true” self resides, as distinct from the front-stage self we present at the office or on the street.
The mobile phone in the garden erodes that private space. And, in turn, it precludes intimacy: Until we have (and can protect) that private self, we can’t be intimate with another. Intimacy, to extend the theatrical metaphor, is like giving backstage passes to a select few. It rests on the private self remaining distinct from the public self, so that you have something to offer chosen friends and family members.