Scott Campbell, University of Michigan – Solitude

imageWhen was the last time you were somewhere quiet?

Scott Campbell, professor of telecommuncations at the University of Michigan, discusses solitude and its benefits in a more connected world.

Scott W. Campbell, PhD is Pohs Professor of Telecommunications and Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan. His research helps explain mobile communication behaviors and consequences. Campbell’s work is published in Journal of Communication, Human Communication Research, Communication Monographs, Communication Research, New Media & Society, Mobile Media & Communication, and other venues. He has also co-edited two books (with Rich Ling) for the Mobile Communication Research Series and collaborated with the Pew Internet & American Life Project on a national study of teens and mobile communication. Campbell is an associate editor of Human Communication Research and serves on the editorial boards for Journal of Communication, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. New Media & Society, Mobile Media & Communication, Communication Reports, and Revista Chilena de Communicacion.



Solitude has many benefits. It grants freedom in thought and action, boosts creativity, offers a terrain for the imagination to roam, and fosters empathy through reflection. Of course, solitude is not always welcome and can be experienced in different ways. It can be sought out deliberately or it can be unintentionally stumbled upon. Both varieties can deliver on its benefits, but the latter may be headed toward the endangered species list. As MIT Professor Sherry Turkle points out in her research, unintended solitude is no longer mandatory now that we have anytime- anywhere access to each other through ever-present mobile devices. Turkle points to boredom as a key reason why people choose their devices over a moment with their own thoughts. Beyond boredom, the literature suggests some other explanations as well.

We live in a time when expectations for being accessible are riding high. Sociologist Rich Ling makes this point in his work about mobile media’s transition from something new into a taken-for-granted assumption, like telling time. His point is well-supported by research showing that 72 percent of young people in the US feel they need to respond to messages immediately.

Also, as mobile communication becomes embedded at the social level, it moves toward the background of our cognitive processing. People simply do not put as much conscious thought into their use of common artifacts, such as watches and now mobile media, when they become a taken-for-granted part of everyday life. Studies suggest this is part of the reason why people text and drive.

Now that unintended solitude is no longer mandatory, we might want to place more emphasis on deliberately carving out times, places, and activities for it — not just in the realm of atoms and molecules, but in the realm of bits and bytes as well.




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