Introduction to Digital Minimalism #4 An Excursion on Loneliness

digital minimalism

Haven’t read the first digital minimalism post? Here:
#1 — Introduction
#2 — What are the big tech companies doing with us?
#3 — A New Philosophy of Technology Usage

Here are the key points from the book Digital Minimalism from Cal Newport about loneliness.

Being Alone

  • How important is it to be alone with our own thoughts?
  • And when are we truly alone with our thoughts?
A precise definition of loneliness by Raymond Kethledge, a federal appellate judge, and Michael Erwin, a former military officer. Kethledge used long periods alone with his thoughts to work on demanding legal opinions, sitting at a simple wooden desk in an old barn without internet access. War veteran Michael Erwin used long jogging sessions to cope with the difficult emotional state he found himself in after returning from his first combat deployment.
The definition of loneliness is as follows:

“Many people mistakenly associate the term with physical seclusion, perhaps requiring them to rent a remote mountain cabin miles away from the nearest human being. This distorted definition sets a standard of isolation that most people can hardly meet regularly in any way. However, loneliness is about what happens in our heads, not in our environment. It is a subjective state in which our thinking is free from the influence of others. Loneliness can be experienced in a crowded café or on the subway, as long as the mind is left to engage only with its own thoughts. On the other hand, loneliness can be driven away even in the quietest environments if we allow the influence of others’ thoughts to intrude.

Apart from direct conversation with other people, these influences can also be reading a book, listening to a podcast, watching television, or engaging in any activity that diverts attention to a smartphone screen. Loneliness requires leaving behind the reactions emanating from other people and instead focusing on our own thoughts and experiences, wherever we may be.”

a man feeling lonely in his work

So why is loneliness so important for our emotional well-being, productivity, deep and creative thinking, and problem-solving self-reflection?

Firstly, I would like to point out that many poets, novelists, and composers throughout history have recognized the need to spend a lot of time alone. Examples include Descartes, Newton, Locke, Pascal, Spinoza, Kant, Leibniz, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Wittgenstein. All these individuals never formed families or maintained close personal relationships, yet they led remarkable lives.

You might be thinking, “Why is this such a big deal? I’m already alone enough every day.” I thought the same, but we must not forget that any influence on our thinking from new technologies means we are no longer alone. Just a few decades ago, the only technologies that deprived us of our solitude were the radio or perhaps a landline telephone or a newspaper.However, smartphones have gradually infiltrated our daily lives and, for the past 10 years, have become an omnipresent tool in our pockets since the advent of internet-enabled smartphones. We can quickly glance at our smartphones at the slightest hint of boredom and immediately obtain a satisfying dose of influence from other thoughts. It has not only become possible but unfortunately has also become normal, without us even noticing, to completely banish being alone from our lives. Cal Newport is even concerned that we will reach a point where we completely forget what it means to be alone.

He describes this state as the loss of solitude: a state in which we spend no time alone with our thoughts, free from the influence of others. I would bluntly support his claim that this state is widespread in the younger generation. I mysel can recall discovering Instagram at the age of 13 and only now, after 9 years, realizing how consistently I have integrated this social network into my daily life.

But what is the real problem?

When I prioritize communication with others over reflecting on my thoughts without the influence of others, I miss out on the positive aspects that solitude brings. These include problem-solving, processing negative experiences, dealing with my emotions, or forming deep relationships with others. A chronic lack of solitude diminishes my quality of life.

In his book, Cal Newport describes one of the greatest and most concerning changes that has occurred in my generation, which I have personally noticed as well. My generation refers to all children, teenagers, or young adults born between 1995 and 2012, who have essentially grown up with smartphones and unlimited internet access. A concerning change has been observed in the realm of mental health among us. This change coincided with the ubiquity of smartphone use. Around 2010, the year the iPhone 4 was released, the number of depression and suicide cases among young people increased significantly.
The iGen, as Newport refers to our generation, is on the verge of the largest mental health crisis in decades, and this crisis began precisely when smartphones became ubiquitous in our daily lives. When entire cohorts unintentionally remove uninterrupted contemplation from their lives, it harms their mental health. Upon further reflection, it makes sense. To varying degrees, we have all lost the ability to process and categorize our emotions or contemplate who we really are and what truly matters to us.
To conclude this chapter, I would like to share a quote from the book by Cal Newport that encapsulates it beautifully:

“We need solitude for our human well-being, and in recent years, we have systematically eliminated this crucial component from our lives without even realizing it. In simple terms: Humans are not designed to be constantly connected.”

I hope you enjoyed this article. At Flow As One we care and support each other. We want to help others achieve their greatness and we do so with creating informative articles, running live mediations and breathworks, online courses, monthly challenges etc. which you can all find on our online platform.


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