Do you remember Heidi, the five years old orphan who lived in the Alps with her grandfather? Her grandpa’s wooden hut was up in the mountains, far from any neighbor. Just the sky, the lawn, and the goats.  Down in the valley was the village with the school, the bakery, and the church. Halfway between the lonely grandpa’s hut and the village lived Peter with his mom and grandma.(On Project Gutenberg you can find Johanna Spyri’s book to refresh your memory or, if you’re not in a reading mood, watch the Japanese series Heidi, Girl of the Alps).

heidiNow outline the mountain with the wooden hut close to the top, trace the village down and point Peter’s house in between. Here you have the essential ways of urban (“city” in Latin) living: within the city, at the outskirts, and isolated. There is no need now to differentiate between city and village, take them both as clusters of people and buildings.

 First option is living together with others in some sort of agglomeration, be it a city, a village, or a hamlet. People have drawn together because they had advantages such as trading, exchanging services, enhancing protection and gaining prestige (and thus power against other groups). Loneliness hasn’t ever been a feasible option.

Yet, at some point several people withdrew the community because they could see only the disadvantages. Too much traffic jam, pollution, noise — sounds familiar, your parents and friends are surely complaining about these —  made people move at the outskirts of the city, not too far though from the jobs, services and shops of the downtown. This is the second option (Peter’s house): not too far but not close. Is it better? It depends on whom you ask. The lack of spontaneous socialization has its disadvantages. Wouldn’t be nice to play with whoever you meet in the park rather than set a play date through parents? If you answer yes, this is just because you like computer games (most indoor play dates end up like this, aren’t they?) J

The rush out of the city continues further than the outskirts (the city’s edge or fringes). In old times hermits, who spent their lives praying and meditating, would live far from others’ noise, in remote places like Heidi’s grandpa choice. (He searched for loneliness because he grieved his child’s death and the villagers, so he felt, were sort of accusing him.) But in general the solitary person has been perceived as odd.  Nowadays people choose to live in such remote places because technology allows them to be as odd as they want. Internet makes possible shopping, working, learning, and socializing even if you live in a dessert. And all without any effort to say “thank you” or “please” when you shop, to find persuasive words to befriend someone or to observe the school norms. Cool, you’d say. Depressing, I’d answer.

Instead of conclusion, remember this: When you’ll be a bit older, read “Bowling Alone” by Robert D. Putnam, a non-fiction book about how connecting to TV disconnects us from our family, friends, and city. Should you care about it? Yes, this comfy-lonely lifestyle is possible only because many other people observe the rules and regulations, take the effort to use words to convince others to cooperate and not to fight, to build institutions that protect and make safer the environment for the comfy loners. If we all give up living together, who will bring those lazy loners the yummy pizza ordered online?