Wh​atever Happened to Time Spent Alone?


For a dying language, Yiddish manages to have quite a pulse on the latest technological terms. If Moteleh and Giteleh — the Dick and Jane of my childhood Yiddish primers — were alive today, you could find them at their kompyuter ekran/ "computer screen" typing out a blitspost/"e-mail." Or they'd pick up their cell phone, their mobilke, and speak to someone in person.

These technologies are ones that our children take for granted. But we Mid/Yids, though proficient with them, were born into a different world.

Take the mobilke, for example.

We certainly grew up with the miracle of the telephone. But back then, it was an object rooted to one spot. Local calls were unlimited; long-distance were a carefully timed luxury.

My husband remembers that in his college dorm, there was a pay phone that had been specially rigged. The change you put into it came back at the end of the call. On Sunday nights, there'd be a line of students sitting on the floor near that phone with huge containers of change. All were waiting, even if it took an hour-and-a-half, for their weekly turn to talk to family — for free.

The scene on campus is a tad different now. Almost everyone walks around with a cell phone as an integral part of their uniform. It's not uncommon for college students to call home once, if not several times a day.

I wonder: Is it good for young people, or any people, to have such constant phone access?

Of course, the answer is nebulous.

If you're stranded somewhere, lost, in danger or late for an appointment, that mobilke can be a blessing. You can impart important news the minute you hear it.

Yet I question the effects of instantaneous phone availability on concepts that are not so easily translatable into Yiddish. Concepts that I fear may be slightly outmoded, such as self-soothing, self-reliance and containment.

How do you learn how to comfort yourself if you're rarely alone? How do you get practice making your own decisions when someone else's opinion is an easy talk button away?

We're all wired for human connection. Yet it's also part of our job as humans to be able to function — and be comfortable — alone. I worry that the art of being quiet with oneself will get lost amid the tempting access to technological toys.

What if a blackout wiped out all of America's electricity for a week? Would the majority of the population droop without a flickering screen or hand-held gadget? Might they eventually find their way to a book or to some overdue reflection time? Or would they just grow agitated without their electronic companions?

My younger daughter used to ask me to accompany her when she needed to walk somewhere in the neighborhood. I love to walk, and was always happy to spend extra time with her. One day I learned that it wasn't just my company specifically that she was after, but my function as a buffer against the silence and boredom of walking alone.

I love talking on the phone as much as the next person. The sympathetic voices of friends and family have been a constant balm to the many rough-edged scabs of adulthood. Yet in between, I need some time for self-reflection. Unlike my daughter, I'm not bored with myself.

Whether through stone markings, pen and paper, or Facebook, humans will always find a way to connect with one another. I'm just putting in my bid that one's sense of self serves as the first stepping stone in that essential chain of connection.

Mara Sokolsky is a freelance writer living in Providence, R.I. E-mail: [email protected]


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