I just finished The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone.
The book chronicles the author’s experience with loneliness but also weaves in stories of art, AIDS, masculinity, feminism, sexual deviance, and the emergence of technology as a mechanism to overcome social isolation.
Yeah, totally uplifting.
But it was so superbly written that you forget you’re reading about pain, despair, and emotional disconnection. In fact, the book was comforting because it was a reminder that loneliness can be an affliction but isn’t necessarily a permanent state of being.
In those times where you feel lonely, all is not lost. You can learn, reflect, and even make great art.
I was also taken with the author’s historical retelling of how we used technology in the 20th century to affirm social connections without making an emotional investment. Social networking, or the lack thereof, isn’t new. From Andy Warhol’s use of tape recorders to the late 20th-century use of nascent web technology to stream video and create hyper-real life on the internet, Americans have been using tech to create weird and sanitized communities for decades.
(TL;DR social networking isn’t new. Loneliness isn’t new. And as we rely more and more on technology, many of us grow exponentially lonelier.)
Strangely enough, I was just talking to my friend Kristen Harcourt about the regrets from my earlier career. My biggest regret is being such an advocate for social networking without thinking about how the social web can separate us from ourselves and our communities.
Where I am today is so different than ten years ago. Back then, I was an early advocate for social media. I traveled the world and taught people to be on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
Now I’m teaching people how to unplug and reconnect with the messy, fleshy, complicated reality around them. I’m trying to make the case for in-real-life loneliness and a better and more authentic experience than the loneliness of mindlessly clicking on Instagram.
And I’m constantly re-learning how to do it, too.
So if you get a chance, pick up a copy of The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone. You’ll learn a little bit about art, but you’ll also learn about the unifying features of the human heart.
It’s worth a read.