Death of the Solitary Scholar

English: Albert Einstein Français : Portrait d...

bottledworder posed a few questions in this blog post regarding the scholarly. Do scholars live a life of solitude, noses buried in their books (laptop, notebooks, iPads…) oblivious to the world around them, throughly focused in whatever ponderous ponderings they may have going on in their minds ? Should they be more social? Are they actually social and we just don’t realize it ? That’s what most of us would envision when someone mentions the word scholar, right? On one extreme end an eccentric brilliant person who fills his ink pen from a coffee cup because he’s got to have that absent mindedness to qualify as brilliant ( an added bonus if he has Albert Einstein’s famous hair do) and on the other extreme a benign, bald headed monk wearing a rough cotton whatchumaycallem’s , secured with a jute rope like item around his waist, walking around in complete silence with a large ancient text thinking about the great mysteries of the human heart.

  The displacement of the solitary scholar

While commenting on her post I realized that in this day and age we really can’t use the  words solitude, solitary and noses buried in books (laptops, computers) to describe scholars!

Because, aren’t most of us doing that today? How long do you think you spend with your nose buried deep within the virtual universe? Answering emails, reading blogs, reading the news, catching up on Facebook (and all the other gazillion social media platforms out there), looking for recipes, for answers, for questions, for locations…….and the list goes on. When I held down an office job, I spent eight to nine hours a day on the computer. Communicating through emails or instant messenger, going through Google for research papers and seeking information, preparing presentation and documents. I’d then come home and it was time for more computer time! This time reading blogs, catching up on Facebook and stumbling around with StumbleUpon.

Smartphones and tablets – don’t leave home without it!

The next time you go out for dinner or drinks with friends, observe those around you. Do you notice something strange? I’ve seen what looked like couples on dates siting across each other, noses buried in their smart phones / laptops / tablets. It’s freaky when you start to realize that communication has changed so much. It’s no longer nerdy or uncool to be engrossed in “burying your nose into something” in fact if you aren’t taken over by one of these thingamajigs you *are* totally not cool.

It’s like this surreal imagery of being marooned on an island alone while you are present among the living. It’s like the scholars we imagine shut up in their  book clogged rooms while being surrounded by life going by.

Social media is an important tool for many reasons, but where do we draw the line? When we have friends that we can meet and talk to face to face following us on Twitter and Facebook, *what* do we talk about when we meet up? As it is most of us update the important stuff (or what we think of as important on our social media platforms) and then there are some that go above and beyond that. Do we just get the pleasantries over with and then sit inside our own little thought bubble?

Stock photo from

Turning into solitary creatures

Though we interact with others via social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter does that qualify as true human interaction? Or is it something that we tell ourselves to make us feel that we aren’t closing away from the world. What about instant messaging? When we converse with another (or two or more) in real time? Skype? Do these sort of medium qualify to be truer to interaction?

Doesn’t solitude and being solitary mean that you are physically alone? When the great thinkers sequester themselves in their rooms to cut of ties from too much of external stimulation?  Do we not to a lesser or greater degree do that too when we immerse ourselves in these platforms?

However, while scholars are generally focussed on their big question…looking for the answers I doubt that our minds are as focussed. The majority of the people that I interact with on these platforms (and even on instant messaging) are multi-tasking. Even I do that. We have 2 or 3 chat windows open dividing our energies and time with different people, we have our web browsers open as we search for something or other, have You tube on a different tab, documents that we may be working on opened as well as 10 different other windows. We become masters at multi-tasking and even those that claim they can’t multi-task to save their lives would at least be able to do two things at once.
Chatting yes, communicating maybe but actual full participation in the experience of being with others (virtually or not), I don’t think so.

A solitary in solitude looking deep within ourselves or without into the Universe and Life…I don’t think so either.
A solitary with a mind buzzing with information overload and the chattering that won’t stop, most probably.

Making a choice.

Is this a bad thing? Should we be freaked out that more of us are resembling a diluted version of Sandra Bullock’s character in The Net? Should we go cold turkey from Twitter and Facebooking?

Honestly I don’t know.

What I do feel is that this is just another evolutionary turning point in the human race. I feel that there is no bad or good, but there are consequences. I feel it is our choice and the choice of the human race as a whole to decide which path in the fork we are going to choose to walk on.

Do we give back the solitary existence to the thinkers and scholars or do we continue to hold on to it?

2 thoughts on “Death of the Solitary Scholar

  1. The more ways we have to be connected with others means we have more ways to be apart. Interesting post, Shree.
    I was on a night out once and bumped into a group of ex-colleagues who were also on a night out. One of the girls said Hi to me, and then spent the next twenty minutes tapping into her phone. She was away from the group she was out with, separate from her conversation with me, and obviously not with who she was chatting to on line. Three ways of separation in one night at the same time can’t be a bad feat for anyone, can it!?


    1. No, not a bad feat at all. It’s just as you put it Tom, the more ways we are able to connect remotely with others, the more we tend to drift away from those that are present in front of us at the moment. It’s taking us away from the present, being totally immersed in the present. Instead we are all over the place (quite literally, virtually speaking).
      It’s a strange phenomenon if you really think about it. Before the age of computers and internet, we’d say that the person was off day dreaming, a dreamer off traveling within their mind unaware of what was happening in the present. I bet though it was easier to get the attention of a dreamer than a person disconnected. Thanks so much for your thoughts!! 😀


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