The Weekend Read – Solitude by Michael Harris

This makes the ideal companion to “Deep Work” of which I have already written. This book which feels like a collection of essays explores the fact that our connectedness means that we have lost something that is vitally important to our lives, namely our solitude. I found it entertaining, thought provoking and important.

The author’s argument is that our increasing busyness, our being always “on” and the ever present communication devices (count how many of the next 50 people you see have got a ‘phone, smart or otherwise, in their hand) has resulted in our being unable to turn ourselves off, to experience being alone with ourselves. We all need time to think, to re-charge, to turn off without it we are losing something wonderful and valuable.

Our days are consumed by the desires that others place on us. These others are often unseen and unknown from advertisers trying to convince you that you need whatever they are selling this time through Facebook checking to see that others are having the time of their lives whilst you’re Billy no-mates to the incessant supply of emails that “demand” to be read.

We know that choice does not make us happy, that many Facebook users have or develop a need for social assurance. We are now being encouraged to make our homes connected via “The Internet of Everything”. When I ask the question “why” the only answer that I understand is, “because we can”. That’s not good enough.

When was the last time that you were truly on your own, disconnected from “the grid” as some say? Have you consciously allowed this lack of solitude to develop or has it just crept in without your specific permission, “everybody is so everybody should”.

Earlier this week I used the “Google Maps” app on my phone to guide me to someone’s house in a suburb of Manchester. I had looked at the route before I set off, it was a 25 minute walk, a pretty easy route but rather than trust my memory, my good sense of direction and my instinct I used the app. I had been there once before 4 months or so ago and didn’t want to get lost. The result – I did get lost, for some reason the app chose (can I really say it chose? Surely I was the one making the choice) to take me round three sides of a square instead of leading me to the destination directly. I knew it was wrong but allowed it to happen. Why trust something so fallible, something that has been programmed to sell me things that “it” has decided I need? I don’t know either.

A lovely book, entertaining, amusing and questioning, you’ll never see your iPhone in quite the same way again. I agree with Douglas Coupland, “I came away from this book a better human being. Michael Harris’ take on existence is calm, unique, and makes one’s soul feel good.”

You can get it from The Book Depository.

 

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