I told my wife the other day that as I’ve aged this last few years (I’m 48), I have seen latent autistic-spectrum tendencies within myself manifest more acutely. The other day I went into a restaurant in town to pick up some take-out food, and didn’t realize till I walked out how strangely I had behaved. I kept my eyes on my smartphone as I walked in, and barely looked up the whole time I sat at the counter and waited. I didn’t want to meet anybody’s gaze, because … why? Why was I so anxious?
This is happening more and more. I used to be very social, but I find now that solitude is what I crave most of all. I don’t think I’m seeking solitude from a position of strength, but from a position of weakness. I find it increasingly exhausting to be out and about, and I’m not sure why. I know I fought depression a couple of years ago, but I don’t think that’s what this is. You know what I think it is? Living most of my life online.
I find it so very easy to connect with people through the medium of the Internet. I spend all day online, writing, reading, e-mailing. It is my normal — and I think this is what my semi-autistic brain prefers to do. I can’t tell if my latent autistic traits are manifesting because I’m getting older, and that’s what happens when you get older, or if the Internet is facilitating and exacerbating this within me. Reading Matthew Crawford’s new book The World Beyond Your Head is, I think, going to be a game-changer for me, because he’s making me realize how much I really do live within my own head, and how thoroughly mediated is my engagement with the world.
In How Dante Can Save Your Life, I write this about Sloth:
Sloth means laziness, but it also means apathy, or a sense of dejection that causes you to lose interest in the world beyond yourself. Before reading the Commedia, my idea of slothfulness was the sluggard who won’t get off the couch and mow the lawn, or the teenager who would rather play video games than do his homework. It’s far more complicated than that, says Dante, who approaches the subject through a discussion with Virgil about love.
A certain unhealthy indifference to the world beyond yourself is an effect of depression. That’s a medical condition that is not the same thing as sloth, which requires a moral choice. My doctor had told me that I was depressed. But that did not let me off the hook for sloth, because in my case the separation was not as clean as I thought.
I’m realizing that you can be slothful while at the same time being extremely busy. This is how I live, because it’s my natural disposition. But it is wrong, and I have to change. This isn’t news to me, but it seems that I have to keep learning it. My impulse to live online, and not in the real world, is overwhelming, in part, I think, because it’s how my brain is constructed, but mostly because, well, it’s what I prefer to do. But my preferences are not justifiable. To put it in Crawfordesque terms, I am not free, because I don’t assert control over my deep, almost compulsive, desire to live online, avoiding the unmediated gaze of others.
OK, enough. Off to the airport. Going back home. My favorite journey!