The Magazine

Only the Lonely

The peculiar isolation of American life.

Feb 13, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 21 • By EMILY WILKINSON
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In our own era, Matt explains, cell phones, PDAs, email, texting, Skype, and Facebook, like cars and inexpensive air travel, give the illusion that we can—almost—be in two places at once and allow for long-distance intimacy that displaced Americans of an earlier era couldn’t have imagined. Mass-produced consumer goods, chain stores, and satellite television also mean that we can find many of the trappings of home across the country and around the globe; thus the American capitalist economy makes us at home everywhere, even as it uproots us for school and work.

In this observation, Matt again seems to invoke Lipset’s “double-edged sword.” She has a delicately calibrated sense of the emotional costs of material choices, and her work is important not only because it is meticulously researched and skillfully written, but because it integrates aspects of the human condition that are intimately intertwined and too often separated: the economic and the emotional.

Emily Wilkinson is a visiting professor of English at the College of William and Mary.