My girlfriend and I decided to go to the gym instead of attending Extravaganza. I know that’s something like blasphemy at UCSB, but we were still recovering from a party at my fraternity on Saturday night. And anyway, Kendrick Lamar’s real name is Kendrick Duckworth, so I would have had a hard time buying it. Needless to say, the gym was empty.
It’s not a familiar thing, having the MAC almost to yourself. My favorite machine was vacant. I was able to guiltlessly hog it for 40 minutes. My girlfriend was the only person on the lofted ellipticals and the gym’s eternally upbeat EDM playlist was out of place amid all the absence.
Although one of the best things about UCSB is its sense of community, I would go crazy if there wasn’t occasionally the opportunity to escape the crowds. Don’t get me wrong, my choice to skip this year’s Extravaganza was not born from any philosophical objection. Going to the empty gym, though, did bring up a few other memories of refreshing isolation: early summer mornings, red-eye flights over the Pacific and fourth-week screenings of bad movies.
It’s true that seeing the modern world without people can be quite eerie. That, above all else, is the biggest gap between our generation and pre-20th century ones. There was a time when Los Angeles was less populated than FT. From our point of view, solitude is a thing of the wilderness or the past and an empty movie theater is a sad token of either economic trouble or artistic failure. I watched a “60 Minutes” piece recently that featured the staggering amount of unused modern developments; think miles of untouched office buildings, condos and shopping malls. For most of us, that kind of emptiness touches a nerve (perhaps because these scenes look too much like the deserted world of post-apocalyptic science fiction). But remember, there’s a balance to be struck here. Empty places have other — better — connotations as well. They are the venues of Eastern-style meditation and the easiest places to enjoy one’s own company.
Societies are not like people. The older they get, the faster they move. The pace of life in the new millennium seems lightning fast, and so the moments of solitude feel only transitional. You’re alone in your car before you’re interrupted by the arrival of school or work. Hell, with Facebook there’s no need to ever be alone. You could wander into the Mojave Desert for two or three or days, survive on only beetles and cactus fruits and carry on a Facebook chat.
That’s why those moments of modern solitude are especially important to me. I’d rather spend an hour in an empty gym than go camping in Yosemite; I’d rather sit alone in an empty movie theater than hunker down on a cattle ranch for a week. Modern solitude relieves me because it shows me that my life — the urban, Internet-connected life that I’m destined to live — isn’t barred from isolation. I believe that without isolation, modern life would be just one big extravaganza of anonymous faces, bright colors and sophisticated tricks. Where’s the balance in that?
Ben Moss doesn’t enjoy your company as much as you think he does.
A version of this article appeared on page 12 of the May 21, 2013 print edition of the Nexus.
Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are submitted primarily by students.