Alone Together

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Dispatches from the Internet. How unique online communities are blooming in the age of global inter-connectivity.

A member describes her typical day: wake up; brush her teeth; yell at one of her eight cats for urinating on the couch; read three chapters from an Orson Scott Card novel; eat a bowl of salad; then spend nine hours silently cruising through forums and blogs on the Internet. She says she has no use, nor interest, for social networking sites.

Another member comments that his day is almost exactly the same, except his three perpetually-defecating parakeets in substitution for the cats, and that he only keeps a Facebook account to assure his family back in Oregon that he’s still alive.

New York City, 2008. Photo by Michael Mira.

They’re members of an online community where self-professed loners congregate and connect. In an age where overpopulation is a pressing issue, it would seem difficult to isolate yourself, limit the amount of your social interactions, yet the rise of the global population can actually play a role in motivating some people to withdraw themselves from society. Cities are becoming more dense. More people means more cars, more trash, and more voices spewing opinions (including my own) in different languages and accents. Mixed with the advertisements and media vying for your attention, all of this stimuli can be very overwhelming for individuals who are sensitive introverts.

Of course, this is just one of many reasons for being a loner. There are two types of loners: those who are loners by choice and those who are pariahs, or forced by society to live a solitary existence. Individuals who prefer to be loners have a variety of reasons for choosing to be lonesome. It ranges from misanthropy (those who are repelled by humanity) to those who simply enjoy being alone.

A classic example of those who withdraw from society is the religious hermit, shunning worldly pleasures to devote one’s self to a life of spiritual pursuits. On the other hand, there are those who are vanquished from their social position, such as former dictators who become outcasts, not only in the country that gave them the boot, but in most of the world. I heard it’s tough being a dictator these days. Just ask Qaddafi.

What I find interesting about these ‘loner clubs’ is that the members have a strong sense of community. When a member is depressed, others are quick to offer kind words and advice. Though they may be physically alone, huddled together on the Internet they form a kind of synthetic, virtual family. They are able to distance their actual selves from others by using screen names and avatars as proxies—Internet representatives. This allows for lower inhibition. Offline, these shy-types might not make great conversationalists, but when around like-minded people on forums they are articulate, witty and show great emotional depth.

The years between 2008 to 2011 have been a sort of renaissance period in the dark corners of the web. I have tallied at least 58 new websites catering to sub-cultures that might not be able to find a platform in more mainstream blogging or social networking sites. This recent crop of new web addresses range from the typical UFO enthusiast forum to the more personal ‘anorexia anonymous’ storyboard, complete with tragic confessionals that would make the most dedicated 90?s Grunge enthusiast seem like a member of the Mickey Mouse Club.

But it was the loner clubs that had attracted me, because I was a bit of a loner myself during my senior year of high school. I could relate with some of the members on the website, especially the military brats and the kids of expats who had a hard time fitting in with their environment due to living in a foreign country.

Most of the members on the website are self-professed voluntary loners, and when I asked one of the members what attracted her to these type of websites, she said, “Even though we’re confined in our dark, cramp little rooms, and even though we’re all alone–at least here we’re alone together.”