The Solitude Challenge: Living Deliberately

“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that — sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.” ~Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau famously said that he went into the woods to live “deliberately”. He meant to live carefully, in an unhurried way. His chronicle of his time in the woods, Walden, emphasizes the importance of solitude, contemplation, and closeness to nature in transcending the “desperate” existence that, he argues, is the lot of most people. Considering that Thoreau lived  160 years ago, one can only imagine what he would have thought of the desperate lives we lead today, with little time or inclination for solitude, as we welcome a constant intrusion of beeps and tweets delivered by our technological umbilical cords.

Thoreau’s was the most famous Solitude Challenge of all time – he lived in a 10′ X 15′ cabin on the edge of Walden pond for two years, two months and two days. My Solitude Challenge, the one  I was tasked with for a class I am taking, only involved sitting alone, sans technology or talking, for 30 minutes.

Rather unexpectantly, I find myself in Florence, Italy this week. Which, it turns out, actually is my Walden Pond. For me, visiting Italy is a kind of home-coming. All four of my grandparents hail from here and in some ways, I was raised more culturally Italian than American. I feel very connected to Italy. For me, there couldn’t be a more perfect place to do the Solitude Challenge .


We took a drive deep into the heart of Tuscany, to Greve in Chianti. On this late fall day, the weather was a comfortable 55 degrees. The sun was shining and the Italian countryside was, as it has been for centuries, beguiling. In my 30 minutes of solitude, I too moved over the hills and fields, these covered with olive trees and vineyards. With the exception of the small Fiat we were traveling in, I too was free from worldly engagements.

I noticed that the pace of my breathing slowed almost immediately. My pulse decelerated and time passed here as I imagine it has always passed: with purpose. Since it was a national holiday (the Feast of the Immaculate Conception), most shops and galleries were closed in the small hill towns. If they weren’t closed for the entire day, they were closed for the afternoon hours of siesta or riposo, a tradition also born out of the human need to retreat, disconnect and regroup.


Even though I was the only one sworn off technology for a short while, I noticed that the people around me weren’t obsessed with their phones. Men, young and old, were gathered in the town square, drinking wine and telling stories. Women strolled arm and arm into the town church, to light a candle to celebrate the virgin’s feast day. Children played soccer in the piazza. Not a single adult checked their phone for texts, or tweets, or Facebook posts. Instead of the sounds of beeping, buzzing, and text swooshing, I heard birds chirping, balls bouncing, children laughing.  They all seemed so relaxed and so natural. When my 30 minutes of The Solitude Challenge were over, I felt no need to check my phone to see if I had missed any important texts or e-mails. I knew I hadn’t.


The Accidental Boricua and “friend”, Greve in Chianti.

Perhaps, the old real estate adage – location, location, location – isn’t just about property values. Maybe, as Thoreau discovered at Walden Pond and I discovered in Tuscany, place is as important to our ability to disconnect from our daily interruptions as is our willingness to do so. It shouldn’t take a trip across the pond or a cabin built next to one for us to detach from meaningless distractions, be they technology induced or otherwise. But as both Thoreau and I can attest to, it sure does help.

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If You Tweet It, They Will Come


I’ll readily admit that when I started taking a class in Social Media Marketing, I was not a huge fan of Twitter.  I understand why people use Facebook. I even get Instagram. But I wasn’t quite convinced about the redeeming qualities of Twitter.  I mean, why follow someone 140 characters at a time?  Can there really be any substance in the clipped and transient messages this platform affords?

Tasked with writing about the most influential people in Puerto Rico on Twitter, I reluctantly set out to see who these people were, what they had to say and why they were being followed.

According to the Buena Vibra Group‘s research on the top Puerto Rican Twitter influencers in 2013, the most influential of all is Residente C13 — one half of the Puerto Rican band Calle 13.  They have won 2 Grammys, 19 Latin Grammy Awards and are currently nominated for another 9 Latin Grammy Awards. Residente C13 has 5.2 million followers on Twitter.  Conversely, the other half of the group — Visitante — has only 420,000 followers (to be fair, Residente’s Twitter feed is designated as the “official” one for the group).


So why are they so influential on social media?  As pointed out in an NPR article, they are one of the “most beloved and hated bands in the Spanish-speaking world”.  They are politically outspoken — they were banned from performing in San Juan for 3 years after insulting the governor of Puerto Rico during a live awards show.  They have been reviled by some for their deeply raunchy and explicit lyrics.

However, they have also been highly successful in transcending musical genres and social norms. The title track of their newest  album, Multi_Viral, is a denunciation of corporate, media and government propaganda. Julian Assange, the infamous Wikileaks founder and international fugitive, makes a spoken word appearance (they traveled to London, with help from the President of Ecuador, to record his part at the Ecuadorean Embassy there). The video for another song from this album, “Adentro”, has the likes of baseball great Willie Mays handing one of his signed bats over to Residente, which he then uses to smash a Maserati filled with guns and gold jewelry.  This album also includes performances by Native American singer Vernon Foster, Cuban songwriter Silvio Rodríguez, and renowned Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano.

The second and third most influential personalities on Twitter, respectively, are Molusco and Angelique Burgos (La Burbu). They are also each one-half of the radio team “El Goldo y la Pelúa“, the number one rated weekday radio program. Roughly translated, “El Goldo” is The Fat One (Molusco) and “la Pelúa” is The Hairy One (La Burbu). Their radio program discusses the concerns of daily life in Puerto Rico, both social and political, with a tone which is both irreverent and humorous.

El Goldo y la Pelúa

When asked recently why he is so influential on social networks, Molusco gave the following response:  “I humanize the social networks, because I manage my own accounts and I try to respond to my fans. On my feeds, there is always something happening and they follow me to keep laughing, because the country is fed up with so much bad news and people are looking for a way to distract themselves from it”.

What they have in common is easy — Residente, Molusco and La Burbu all touch on the political and social issues that affect Puerto Rican society. While they differ in style, their intent is similar.

Residente takes no prisoners.  He is a maverick, like many of the people who collaborate with him on his albums. He is honest, and through his music, he fights unapologetically for what he thinks is right. People follow him on social networks because he speaks out over social injustices here in Puerto Rico and around the world.

Molusco and La Burbu talk about the many of the same issues as Residente, but they do it in a less judgmental, more entertaining way. They win our heart with their jokes, making light of our shared struggles.  It’s topical, yet light-hearted.

Residente’s is somewhat dark and existential, Molusco and La Burbu are light and pragmatic. But, like any leader trying to start a revolution, they are the same in that they keep their followers directly engaged — in short but frequent messages — by giving a voice to their common emotions, be it anger, unease or plain old boredom.

So did this assignment turn me into a Twitter convert? Well, let’s just say I’m still don’t have the Twitter app on my smartphone. But I have a newfound understanding of both it’s charm and it’s importance in how leaders will be able to shape their influence in the future.

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