Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Loner Nation

Home Alone?
Recently I had been looking for a place to rent. After having lived by myself for the past twenty years, I simply wanted to rent a room, ideally in someones house who had extra space.  I figured so long as I had enough space for a bed, a desk and the ability to share kitchen and bath facilities, I would be living in a way that would benefit the environment and reduce consumerist culture.  Additionally, I thought having a roommate would be positive.

This situation got me to thinking: just what was the state of single residency in the US.  I wasn't too surprised to learn the most current US census (per a 2014 Washington Post article) reported that 27 percent of Americans now live by themselves; a figure which had increased from 5 to 27 percent over the past century.  This was in part attributed to Americans' ever growing sense of independence and in part due to the elderly outliving spouses on average for longer periods of time.

As a thought experiment, I found myself imagining how a single living paradigm might have established itself in the distant past and for living alone to possibly trend ever higher into the distant future.

With paleontological insight, I envision human ancestors competing for much of the past 100,000+ years as primal, social animals; these intelligent creatures likely evolved traits that reinforced relying on close quarter community to survive.  On a daily basis this would amount to sleeping in groups, gathering food and creating shelter together, sharing information, and vying for right to take part and lead within the community.  I also imagine individuals would still spend time alone, perhaps exploring with curiousity or contemplating the beauty and mystery of the local surroundings and the self.

In contrast, looking far into the future, I can envision an ever growing isolationist society, one not too different from that envisioned in Isaac Asimov's novel The Naked Sun where humans had isolated themselves to such a great degree, that they communicated exclusively by viewscreen, and then only rarely. In fact, these future homo sapiens were so shy, that the murder central to Asimov's story was considered unimaginable.  Are we heading toward a world where virtual connections become the vestigial remains of the community our species once celebrated?

In the present, one might say we're well on our way to that world. Virtual gaming, working from home, texting and selfie posting suffuse our current society, allegedly enhancing our community connections. It seems to me conversations, group pow-wows, and sharing of our inner selves is gradually eroding away.  Sure, there are venues where interaction occurs for those who are otherwise single and independent: connecting with colleagues at brick-and-mortar offices, spending time with families during a holiday or vacation, or even connecting with live groups at spiritual and secular gatherings.

Still, it seems many of us in singledom have chosen a lifestyle where we return regularly to spacious apartments and multi-bedroom homes to sit alone, harvesting surrogate affection from pets or virtual friends.

Being single can be a celebration of independence, but perhaps we should be more mindful of our heritage of community.  By converting some of our strength of independence into grassroots community energy, we can challenge ourselves forge ever closer connections, both in our homes and out.

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