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  • Writer's pictureCharles Cherney

66: Solitude

A colleague just gave me a copy of Cal Newport's book Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. (2019) I am reading the book now. An idea that Newport presents and clearly values is SOLITUDE.

Newport adopts Raymon Kethledge and Michael Erwin's definition of solitude as "time spent alone with your own thoughts and free from inputs from other minds."

As Newport notes, "Many people mistakenly associate this term with physical separation - requiring, perhaps, that you hike to a remote cabin miles from another human being." However, solitude is just as much available to you in a crowded coffee shop as it is on a distant mountaintop - or not.

First things first - to experience solitude, you need to turn your phone off. Emailing and checking Facebook + Twitter + Instagram and texting does not constitute solitude. That, as we all know, is its opposite: many inputs from many other minds. In addition to our smartphones, inputs can also take the form of talking with others; reading a book; listening to a podcast; or watching TV.

So, solitude is spending time alone with one's self. And in the modern world, it is increasingly rare. How often do you spend time alone with your own thoughts, free from inputs from other minds?

Newport has a few ideas to promote your own experience of solitude:

- Leave your phone at home.

- Take long walks with your phone turned off.

- Write letters to yourself.

For most of us, myself included, the idea of separating yourself from your phone or turning it off, is radical. Newport, however, thinks it is essential. Because he believes that solitude is essential. Solitude affords one the opportunity for unhurried reflection, which often leads to insight and emotional balance and greater self-awareness.

And yet in today's world, as Newport notes, "It's now possible to completely banish solitude from your life."

When is the last time you experienced solitude? For how long?

I can drive to work after dropping my daughter off with the radio off. I can stay up late or get up early to spend time alone. I can walk around Fresh Pond. I can put my phone away. All good ideas.


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