By Jim Kempton
To read the posts on Facebook, view the images on Instagram and catch the soundbites on Twitter, it may seem as though a man of solitude is a vanishing breed. Everyone can talk, friend and share with everyone else on earth. Consequentially, we seldom experience being alone anymore.
Every minute we are bombarded with the latest news headlines, poll results, sports scores, music awards, book releases or outrageous comment of the day.
Many people don’t even phone one another anymore. They text, even though it takes longer to type the message than to speak it. In every restaurant, bar, gym and other social gathering place, multiple television screens spatter spectacles from every angle, leaving no place to be unburdened from stimulation.
Of course, as everyone knows from experience, the crowd can be one of the loneliest places on earth. And the constant distraction of incoming data—unfiltered, unconnected, unorganized—can often create an unsettling, even disorienting, atmosphere.
The pace of virtual interaction has become so fast, so furious and so frantic that some of my friends say they go out to clubs and bars and party scenes with mobile devices in hand just to be reminded how much they enjoy being by themselves afterwards.
And is there nothing more amusing in our modern age than watching how these smart little phones (which we pay a fortune for) make captives of us all? At even the slightest pause in physical inactivity—waiting for an appointment, a movie, a checkout line, even a stoplight—handheld devices are frenetically finger-punched by scores of addicts standing shoulder to shoulder, all completely ignoring one another.
What seems to have been lost in this massive shift of instantaneous interactive communication is the concept of contemplation. When every moment the eye and brain are being assaulted by exterior electronic stimuli, it is harder to let the interior instincts, the still small voice of reason, the cool, calm and collected thoughts sift to the surface and provide meaning and direction for our lives.
A contemplative solitude is the best place to order and prioritize the mishmash of raw data thrown at us on a constant basis. It’s not just a tool to thwart bewilderment; it’s a means to a rationally examined life.
Being alone has one other great advantage: you don’t have to answer to anybody. Perhaps more than ever this is why surfing has had such an alluring effect on so many individuals.
“In this crowded world,” founder John Severson wrote in the 1960 premier issue of Surfer Magazine, “the surfer can still seek and find the perfect day, the perfect wave, and be alone with the surf and his thoughts.”
Today, even out in the ocean that coveted seclusion is hard to come by.
Loners, in other words, have nowhere to go. No matter where they take refuge, the ensuing smart-phone racket barges right in. Well, I am here to champion the call to action: “Loners unite!” Go surfing, grab a paddle, put on the hiking boots, basketball sneakers, bike helmet, even the reading glasses and watch the sun rise—but leave the little bleeping black box at home.
Jim Kempton is writing a cookbook based on recipes from surfing adventures. He agrees with the loner Audrey Hepburn who famously said, “I don’t always want to be alone. I just sometimes want to be left alone.”