Living alone means having no “social checks and balances”?

As more Americans live alone, these solo dwellers may have different behaviors at home:

In a sense, living alone represents the self let loose. In the absence of what Mr. Klinenberg calls “surveilling eyes,” the solo dweller is free to indulge his or her odder habits — what is sometimes referred to as Secret Single Behavior. Feel like standing naked in your kitchen at 2 a.m., eating peanut butter from the jar? Who’s to know?

Amy Kennedy, 28, a schoolteacher who has a two-bedroom apartment in High Point, N.C., all to herself, calls it living without “social checks and balances.”…

Among her domestic oddities: running in place during TV commercials; speaking conversational French to herself while making breakfast (she listens to a language CD); singing Journey songs in the shower; and removing only the clothes she needs from her dryer, thus turning it into a makeshift dresser…

What emerges over time, for those who live alone, is an at-home self that is markedly different — in ways big and small — from the self they present to the world. We all have private selves, of course, but people who live alone spend a good deal more time exploring them.

This sounds like Goffman’s dramaturgical approach: those living alone can be truly back-stage with themselves perhaps in a way they never could with a spouse or family. Would all of us exhibit this kind of quirky behavior if we didn’t have others around at home? Without others around to enforce the social norms of behavior, perhaps we become our only standard.

This makes me think about an area of life we don’t examine enough: what do people do when they are alone? Do they generally follow social conventions or are all people quirky? Do they feel comfortable when alone? Are there limits to much we can talk to each other about being alone or how much we can ask about what others do when they are alone? How do alone behaviors and feelings about being alone differ across cultures? Do people in the Western world today spend more or less time alone than in the past? Do we feel a need to have more alone time (“me-time”?) or do simply express this more? How do others tend to respond when we express loneliness or express that we like to be alone?

One thing I noted when reading this article: what about being alone yet through different mediums not really being alone? I’m thinking of situations where someone is alone but they are watching TV, listening to the radio, or interacting with people online. (Might reading also fall into this?) Of course, this kind of interaction is different than face-to-face interaction but is it truly living alone? I tend to be a person who likes to listen to talk radio – am I alone when doing this? Additionally, does this mediated interactions limit the quirky side of living alone?

It might be difficult methodologically to get at alone time. I assume the best way to do this would be to have cameras observing people while alone. Of course, it would take some time for people to forget the cameras are there but it would happen eventually. Other methods would not be as good: having a person do the observations would alter the setting too much; time diaries are unreliable; and surveys or interviews after the fact could be helpful but would end up being interpreted accounts.

One thought on “Living alone means having no “social checks and balances”?

  1. Pingback: Lots of sociological themes in Time’s “10 ideas that are changing your life” | Legally Sociable

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s