Brookfield Basics

A column about history, culture, policy, and things in between.

Generation Facebook - Whither Solitude?

Marcus Cicero, Roman orator, Proconsul, and one of the architects of Western Civilization wrote of himself, "he was never less at leisure than when at leisure, nor less alone than when all alone".  

Kal-El - a.k.a. Superman - maintained a Fortress of Solitude.  It was there that the Man of Steel would seclude himself, to prepare for the battles that only Superman could fight.

And the chorus from REM.'s fabulous song It's The End of the World As We Know It, calls out in cascading refrain, "Can I have some time alone"?


I wonder about Generation Facebook and the incredible array of technology our youth has at its dispoal; technology that Neil Armstrong could hardly have imagined, yet that fits comfortably in their pockets.  And I marvel at the level of "connectedness" it affords them.  But the question that continues to nag is - "what is the value of this connectedness"?  While none would dispute the pragmatic value of technology, and the convenience it brings to our every day lives; deeper questions linger.

Our community's youth today are the most "scheduled" young people ever.  Activities, sports, clubs, academic rigor, employment, and social activities; all place demands on their time that I never imagined, much less experienced at that age.  Add to that the invasive nature of technology, and there is little to no time left for reflection, relaxation, mental "down time", and how about this quaint old notion - sleep.    

I am convinced that some of the most valuable time our own children have spent is on the trampoline in our back yard, laying with hands clasped behind head, ankle perched on opposite knee, gazing up at the sky.  There - instead of the relentlessly tyrannical assault of the hand held device or Facebook screen, their minds could disconnect from the claptrap of modernity, and just wander as languidly as the hawks they watched lilting expertly on updrafts, or the breeze as it alternately chastised, then caressed the tree tops.  During such moments their thoughts just lazily meandered, thinking about anything, or perhaps even better - nothing.  During such moments the wonder of nature began to soak into their consciousness.  And it was perhaps during these stolen inerludes, that they first began to address formative questions such as, "who am I", "what do I believe", and "what is my place in the universe"?   

Facebook, smart phones, and other attendant technologies are tools with an appropriate and efficacious place in their lives.  As tools, these things are akin to our automobiles - morally neutral.  But I submit that the level and volume of their use raises legitimate ethical, if not moral questions.  And I am convinced that the pace of technological advancement has outstripped our ability and our willingness to assess its impact.

Stories continue to emerge of "technology addiction", and an inability of many young people to be stimulated by other, perhaps more time honored modes of self-entertainment.  I continue to hear stories from concerned parents of their kids rising in the morning tired, distracted, and irritable, because they took their phone to bed, texting, emailing, or surfing long into the night.  And what of language?  Texting is creating a sub-language of acronyms and phrases that can, over time, erode one's ability, or even willingness to use it properly.

Not only are these technologies here to stay, they will no doubt continue to grow and emerge.  My only concern is that, alongside the incredible wonders of their use, we give consideration to its implications, and look for ways to carve out those precious moments of down time and solitude. 

And besides, who amongst us hasn't dreamt of being an orator, a super hero, or a rock star?

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