Is Solitude the Answer?


"Here, in my solitude, I have the feeling that I contain too much humanity" ~ Ingmar Bergman

Is Solitude the answer to the Isolated Self?

In our hyper-connected world, despite having more connections than ever before, we feel isolated.

Is the answer, then, disconnection?

Artists from John Keats to Louise Bourgeois have relied upon solitude to create space for their creative selves. Our brain actually requires mental isolation in order to freely associate creatively. Researchers like Sherry Turkle have found that isolation is derived from a failure to cultivate the capacity for solitude.

The ability to gather oneself together has been subverted by our digital behaviours, always reaching for distraction or to broadcast ourselves to the world.

Mindfulness has gained much traction of late as a way of detoxing from our modern, digital lives. Whether in the form of meditation, or single focus activities like colouring books, the act of creating space for yourself and a singular focus, without distraction, is being popularised as a method of calming our busy heads.

We are being urged to disconnect from the ephemeral and experience the now:

In this moment, what are my thoughts, emotions and needs?

Technology is very good at being programmed to do things we need it to. But it doesn't understand us very well yet.

What if it just asked us? What if our technology was truly mindful of our needs in the moment? What if technology became an ambient presence, not clamouring to be interacted with (and rewarding us with a Pavlovian endorphin hit), but mindful of our context?

We already have settings on our phones for when we are on an airplane. What if it could also disconnect me from the busy digital world when I'm having dinner with my kids? When I'm driving? When I'm angry? When I'm sad?

What if digital experiences were truly responsive, not just to my device type, but to my feelings, my routine, my activity, my physicality, my context?

What if we could have a far more nuanced relationship with technology, in which we can connect only when we have need of it? How much more value might we place on that single interaction instead of the constant demand of the world to get in.

Every day, we broadcast ourselves to the world. Our identities are fragmented and scattered - different shards of us on different servers. My social life on one platform, my family life on another, my carefully curated and projected life on yet another, and perhaps my true self disappeared, split into a million digital selves. Even those pieces that we don't freely give to the digital are sometimes taken from us, without our knowledge or permission.

If mindfulness, experienced through solitude, is the process of gathering our thoughts and experiencing who we truly are in the moment, then perhaps we need our digital platforms to gather our identity together again. To reel in our digital selves and merge it back with our true selves, free of distractions and able to serve our needs.

What this might give me is not only a delightful digital experience which meets my needs at the point of need, but it also gives me a clearer mental environment so that I can reconnect with things that are important to me.

“The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. Originality thrives in seclusion free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind. Be alone—that is the secret of invention: be alone, that is when ideas are born.” ~ Nikola Tesla