Net Loss: The Inner Life in the Digital Age: Quarterly Essay 72

Sebastian Smee

Net Loss: The Inner Life in the Digital Age: Quarterly Essay 72
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Net Loss: The Inner Life in the Digital Age: Quarterly Essay 72

Sebastian Smee

What is the inner life? And is it vanishing in the digital age?

Throughout history, artists and philosophers have cultivated the deep self, and seen value in solitude and reflection. But today, through social media, wall-to-wall marketing, reality television and the agitation of modern life, everything feels illuminated, made transparent. We feel bereft without our phones and their cameras and the feeling of instant connectivity. It gets hard to pick up a book, harder still to stay with it.

 In this eloquent and profound essay, renowned critic Sebastian Smee brings to the surface the idea of inner life - the awareness one may feel in front of a great painting or while listening to extraordinary music by a window at dusk or in a forest at night. No nostalgic lament, this essay evokes what is valuable and worth cultivating - a connection to our true selves, and a feeling of agency in the mystery of our own lives.

At the same time, such contemplation puts us in an intensely charged relationship with things, people or works of art that are outside us. If we lose this power, Smee asks, what do we lose of ourselves?

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