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29 August 2015

Community Requires Solitude

Sherry Turkle is a researcher at MIT. She has done extensive studies on the impact technology has on our capacity for social engagement and relational intimacy. Originally Turkle was an outspoken advocate of technology, but as her research deepened she changed her opinion. Turkle says mobile technology, like the smart phone you are probably holding right now, means we never have to be bored. The moment we feel the first twinge of boredom we reach for a device to distract ourselves.

The problem with this, says Turkle, is that times of solitude and boredom are how we discover ourselves. That is when we get in touch with our deeper feelings, thoughts, fears, and desires. It may be uncomfortable at first, but a growing self-awareness is how we increase our capacity to be intimate with others. As we know ourselves we are able to give ourselves to another. This is what mobile technology disrupts. “If we’re not able to be alone,” says Turkle, “we’re going to be more lonely.” We will lose our ability to relate deeply with others. 

This does not mean solitude is more important than community, only that solitude is necessary for genuine community. Dietrich Bonhoeffer summarized it this way:

“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community... Let him who is not in community beware of being alone... Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair.”


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