Last night I was at a restaurant with a dear friend of mine. We were on the patio having a great conversation when a married couple sat down at the table next to ours. We were bewildered as the husband took out his smart phone, began playing electronic music out loud, and set it on the table for the remainder of the meal.
We are a people terrified of silence.
I often bemoan to my friends and family about how lonely I am. The irony being that I am complaining TO my friends and family. I think our culture has twisted up this word, loneliness. We can each name half a dozen songs about being alone in a crowded room, or maybe while sitting next to a lover, but is that really loneliness?
Tom Hanks was lonely in Castaway.
Will Forte, in Last Man on Earth, is lonely.
My guess is, you are not lonely.
I think what we confuse for loneliness today is actually some modern unrest inside of us. We have this lack of peace within ourselves that calls for constant noise and distraction. And when no one can hang out on a Friday night, we call ourselves ‘lonely’ because that void inside of us is about to act up. We’re about to have to face ourselves.
Praise God for Netflix.
I watched a movie recently where this Middle Eastern Christian monk is talking about silence. He says Sure, you can go to a quiet place like a forest or a desert and it will be quiet for a while. But, he says, There is another kind of silence that is much harder to attain. And that is the silence within yourself. A stillness in your soul.
My guess is we’re not lonely, we have a lack of peace within.
So I came up with a term for this, and to be honest, I guess it’s not that original. I was thinking about how this feeling we associate with loneliness really comes from somewhere else, perhaps an overload instead of a lack. We are always connected digitally, and therefore, more disconnected personally.
We have noise coming into our bodies constantly, so why would we expect there to be silence in our soul?
It’s the New Loneliness.
We are the New Lonely.
I think the more we try to fill our heads with music, podcasts, Netflix/Amazon Prime (you Primers aren’t getting off the hook either), social media, sports, news, or whatever your drug of choice is, the less we will be at peace with ourselves. And therefore, the more ‘lonely’ we will feel.
Our loneliness is not one induced by too few friends, but by too much noise.
Too many flashing lights and screaming sirens.
When was the last time you sat in silence and thought? A favorite writer of mine named Muyskens once said that We live in a culture that esteems accumulation, but the Christian life is one of subtraction rather than addition.
I live in Chicago, where I am always seeing a lot of people. And most of these people are distracting themselves. They have their earbuds in, their head sunk onto their chest, gazing into their device. Or maybe they’re tourists, snapping a steady stream of photos and selfies just so they can look back on that time they went to Chicago and took a crapload of pictures. (this is another blog post altogether…)
Why are we so discontent to not be where we are? With the people we are with?
What are you so scared of missing online that is not present where you are?
That was a tangent, but I’m tired of the angst social media has created in my life along with most of my contemporaries. We are more distant from ourselves, more reserved from those around us, more polished online than in person, and we are very very lonely. Social media creates and plants within us desires we didn’t previously have. It’s a cruel loop.
Perhaps the way to escape the New Loneliness is to trim down the input we take. Turn your phone off and go for a walk.
Don’t take a picture of it.
Talk to yourself.
Talk to a friend.
Don’t take a picture of them.
Have any of my Christian friends actually obeyed Psalm 46:10, or have you just posted it to Instagram?
“Be still and know that I am God.”
The Jewish existential psychiatrist, Irvin Yalom, spoke about two kinds of lonliness. Interpersonal lonliness was what we experience as we long for connection with others. Intrapersonal is the lonliness within ourself as we experience alienation from ourself. I love your article.
You’re the best Ethan. Right on point. Really enjoy all of your blog posts and appreciate how you challenge yourself and allow like minded “friends” to follow along. I share so many of the same feelings and sentiments. Thanks again
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Oh the silence. I find that I dislike it because it is there that I can no longer hide from myself. It is there that the truth of my depravity is no longer secret. However it is there that I can also be reminded of the truth of who’s I am, that visceral raw place that will see eternity.
Thank you for the honesty.
This is spot. on. Even though we have tons of ways of communicating with people, how often are we actually using those tools to create deep, meaningful connections? And when we do sit across the table from someone, how often are we really actually there, instead of using our devices to distract ourself with other people we’re not really connecting with? Lots of excellent things to ponder here.
Thank you Ethan for writing this post. I am lucky that I am of a certain age, where it was necessary to communicate, truly connect, personally with others. Although sometimes, that was not easy, because of lack of confidence, jealousy or whatever…..it was a skill that had to mastered in order to live in the real world. Unfortunately with technology, those person to person skills are no longer needed or even desired. Could it be because of the nostalga of it? Perhaps it is because we are under the impression that we are making our world smaller because we can “communicate” with anybody around the world? Indeed, we are making our world smaller but not in a positive way – most of us will never truly know the others we “connect” to over the World Wide Web – because we have lost the ability to truly communicate with ourselves first, let alone our neighbors, mates, friends and lovers.
Thank you also for quoting my all time favorite Psalm, it helps me out when I am feeling frazzled or “lonely”….but the lonely I speak of is not the same you younger folks deal with. Peace my friend.
P.S. Please forgive my run-on(s)!
Great post Ethan….. this is so true. Thanks for posting
Ethan, I enjoy reading every single post you make. Keep It Up Friend!
As always, Ethan, you so eloquently speak what many feel. Thank you.
This is so good… It’s magic to find like minded people downright to their writing … I recently started shutting down more on social media and just not playing music in the car at times.. The desired frightening and satisfying outcome your article
Articulates so well. Thank u!
I absolutely love enjoying the silence. Whether on a walk or on the church,even at home. I believe in having moments of silence just by yourself are important and totally necessary.
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