Maybe it's not the apps themselves that are affecting me negatively, but the fact that they make it possible to never be truly alone with your thoughts?
One thing I kinda like about self-improvement books is how, with the good ones, you can re-read them again later on in life and get new things out of them.
I had this experience with a book called Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport recently.
In a nutshell, the book teaches you how to do a one month “digital detox” where you cut out all social media and other digital distractions from your life, so you can then re-add things that you actually enjoy, and avoid going back to the things that essentially just rot your brain.
Anyway, I was reading the book and got to a chapter about “solitude depravation”. Never heard of it before? It’s pretty self explanatory, but here is the definition:
Solitude depravation is a state in which you spend close to zero time alone with your own thoughts and free from input from other minds.
I think I forgot about this concept. Or maybe the first time I read the book, it didn’t really click that this was something important. But on this read through, this part of the book really stood out to me.
Am I too online, or is it solitude depravation?
Lately I’ve really been feeling the negative effects of what I thought was internet/social media addiction.
This manifests in a few ways… Difficulty enjoying things I used to enjoy, like long story-based videogames for example. Or ability to stay engaged whilst being around friends for extended periods of time.
Or at least, I thought that it was just the effects of being “too online” that was causing this.
Now, I think the deeper issue is that I’m experiencing solitude depravation.
Why solitude depravation is bad
Solitude is about what happens in your brain when you’re alone, free from input from other minds.
And by the way, when you’re just hanging out by yourself, you’re probably not actually in solitude.
You’re only in true solitude if you’re completely unplugged from other minds. That means no reading books, no listening to a podcast, watching tv, or doing pretty much anything that involves a screen.
In short, it’s really good for your brain to experience this. Some of the positive things that solitude brings you include:
The ability to clarify hard problems
Regulates your emotions
Builds moral courage
Brings back focus and clarity
Basically, if you avoid solitude, the quality of your life degrades.
In this day and age, you kind of have to seek out true solitude, because it’s easier to unlock your phone and open literally any app than to sit alone with your thoughts…
But now I think that I realize that maybe it’s not the apps themselves that are messing me up, but the fact that I’m depriving myself of just being alone with my own thoughts instead.
What I’m doing to achieve more solitude
Here’s a few strategies I’m implementing so I can experience more solitude:
Meditating more, which involves simply sitting there with my eyes shut and allowing my brain to wander, while also making an effort to allow thoughts to fade so I don’t dwell on certain things too long
Turning all my devices off during random evenings or weekend afternoons when I feel like I want to experience complete solitude. This involves removing my computer from my desk and hiding it from view, and putting my powered-off devices on the bookshelf where I can’t really see them. Turning them off is key because something about them being actually off makes my subconscious know I’m truly alone
Go for walks without my phone. If I have my phone with me when I’m on walks, I feel like I just think differently. I’ll be thinking about stuff I want to take pictures of, or stuff to look up, or I’ll be texting, etc. For me, if I even have my phone on me at all, I don’t feel like I’m experiencing actual solitude
I kind of envy cats and dogs. I love how they can just exist. They just sit quietly alone and enjoy it. Maybe that’s why they have such carefree lives? Because they spend so much of their time processing their own thoughts?
But at the same time, I’m so grateful to have been born a human. The fact that I get to wake up every day and do all the cool stuff humans get to do. Experience art, travel the world, have friends and build deep relationships.
And yes, even be online. The amount of cool stuff to experience is just simply never ending.
Learning about solitude depravation makes me realize that in order to have a satisfying experience with life, we need time alone to power down our brains.
The experience of being human, especially now days, decades into the information age, means that it’s not easy to simply say no to exterior input and travel inside your own mind.
But nothing worth doing is ever easy, is it?
By the way, this is hard at first, but feels amazing after a while. Like I feel like I can literally feel my brain healing the more I do it.
The fact that we’re only 15 years into this era of never logging off, is crazy. It’s possible to completely banish solitude from your life. What will this situation look like in 15, 50, or even 100 more years?