The Relief of Privacy

Online sharing has become, for many, a way of life, or part of a way. This is not bad at all; without Marcell Bajnai’s music recommendations, I might not have begun listening to Platon Karataev, at least not so soon, and without Cz.K. Sebő’s posts, there are many musicians I might not have heard of, and who knows when I would have been introduced to Csenger Kertai’s poetry. I also enjoy being able to recommend music, poetry, events to others and to post my own work.

But too much online sharing can become compulsive and corrosive. First of all, it isn’t really “sharing” in the full sense, in that there may or may not be a recipient. Second, if you share everything you do, you lose some of your own response to it. There is a lot to be said for taking something in without immediately flinging it out into the world. Something happens in the privacy. This is true even for works that you have shared many times before. A certain freedom takes form.

This does not mean that it’s wrong, or superficial, or damaging to recommend favorite works to others. It isn’t wrong at all. The only harm happens when a person forgets how to keep something to the self for a little while.

What a relief and soaring: reading a story, listening to a piece of music, without telling anyone, without having to say anything about it at all, without having to declare what it was you just did. Even more surprising, this soaring comes easily. Just take a few minutes with something in private.

Not only that, but the privacy gives rise to new things: art, thoughts, angles of wisdom, and something direct and basic. This is why people go on retreats—but the retreat can be accomplished anywhere.

This privacy does not have to be completely solitary, either. It can be, but it can also involve listening to music with a friend, or reading a book for a class. The privacy comes from not having to tell the world what you are up to.

Again, a person does not have to choose just one or the other. Good can be found in both, and people need different proportions at different times. It’s just that we’re under continual pressure to share online, and a great deal of the time there’s no need.

My guess is that social media companies and other businesses not only want us to share everything (so that they can collect data), but also do not want us to keep things to ourselves. Why not? When you keep something to yourself, you can take more time with it; you don’t have to find something to say about it. That means slower “consumption,” fewer ratings, fewer purchases. It also means more independence from the various online “influencers,” more willingness, overall, to use your own judgement or suspend judgement for a while.

Independence? Oh, that must never be allowed, they decree under their breath. It’s a fantasy, anyhow, they explain, pointing at their PowerPoint charts; interdependence is what we’re all about. Granted, no one has complete independence, nor would this be desirable. But it’s on each of us to live out what little bit we have, because without it, we would be on constant call, living to please someone else’s algorithm.

Art credit: Daler Usmonov, Solitude (2015).

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  • “Setting Poetry to Music,” 2022 ALSCW Conference, Yale University

  • Always Different



    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In April 2022, Deep Vellum published her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.


    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.


    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

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