The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

Olivia Laing on the Future of Loneliness

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Gail-Albert-Halaban

Olivia Laing whose new book The Lonely City is out in 2016, has a personal essay on loneliness and technology in The Guardian that, like her books To the River and The Trip to Echo Spring, weaves a lot of surprisingly disparate threads together into fascinating meditation on art, literature and place:

At the end of last winter, a gigantic billboard advertising Android, Google’s operating system, appeared over Times Square in New York. In a lower-case sans serif font – corporate code for friendly – it declared: “be together. not the same.” This erratically punctuated mantra sums up the web’s most magical proposition – its existence as a space in which no one need ever suffer the pang of loneliness, in which friendship, sex and love are never more than a click away, and difference is a source of glamour, not of shame.

As with the city itself, the promise of the internet is contact. It seems to offer an antidote to loneliness, trumping even the most utopian urban environment by enabling strangers to develop relationships along shared lines of interest, no matter how shy or isolated they might be in their own physical lives.

But proximity, as city dwellers know, does not necessarily mean intimacy. Access to other people is not by itself enough to dispel the gloom of internal isolation. Loneliness can be most acute in a crowd.

Coincidentally, Laing’s piece is illustrated with photographs from Gail Albert Halaban‘s series Out My Window — one of which was used on the cover of My Salinger Year by Joanna Rackoff, designed by Peter Mendelsund and Oliver Munday.

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