The "epidemic of loneliness" is upon us.
A survey of 2018 of the Cigna health insurance company found that most Americans, especially the millennials and the Generation Z, are considered alone.
Yet, in his new book, "Digital Minimalism", Cal Newport explains loneliness, and he maintains that we are not tired enough.
Newport is a professor of computer science at Georgetown University and author of the 2016 bestseller "Deep Work". In "Digital Minimalism", he guides readers in reducing the amount of time and energy they dedicate to digital technology, in an effort to help them focus on the people and activities they really enjoy.
So when Newport talks about loneliness, he is specifically talking about the type without technology. Think of a walk alone in nature (without phone) or a few minutes spent in a quiet contemplation (without a computer). Unfortunately, he writes, we are experiencing a cultural phenomenon that he calls "privation of loneliness" or "a state in which you spend almost zero time alone with your thoughts and free from input from other minds".
The problem? Newport writes: "When you avoid loneliness, you lose the positive things that it offers you: the ability to clarify difficult problems, to regulate your emotions, to build moral courage and strengthen relationships".
Newport cites some different sources of experts who suggest that spending too much time on the phone can lead to anxiety and depression. Even if it does not support this leap of logic, it seems plausible that flipping through social media and responding to a flurry of texts can leave us in an existential void, stuck somewhere between the enjoyment of the company of others and the enjoyment of ours.
Spending time alone might be difficult at the beginning, but it is important
A potential solution, therefore, is to put down the phone from time to time and socialize in person or be really alone. Newport devotes more time to the second option, emphasizing that, like many successful people before him, he often makes long (only) walks, to solve a problem or to devote himself to personal reflection.
An increasing number of research confers credibility to Newport's thesis. For example, letting the mind wander (which you could technically do in the presence of another person) can facilitate creative thinking.
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Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman has discovered that many people get their best ideas under the shower. "The relaxing, solitary and non-judgmental shower environment can allow creative thinking allowing the mind to roam freely, and causing people to be more open to their inner flow of consciousness and daydreams," Kaufman said.
The main difference between loneliness and the type of loneliness that makes you more effective is that the latter is voluntary. As Kenneth Rubin, a developmental psychologist at the University of Maryland, has declared to the Atlantic, one of the requirements for productive loneliness is that you can join a social group whenever you wish.
Newport, for its part, readily recognizes that it may be difficult to find time for solitude in the daily program. Also, it can be inconvenient to sit down with your own thoughts and feelings without the escape button which is the Facebook app icon.
Matthew Bowker, a psychoanalytic political theorist at Medaille College, told the Atlantic: "It might take a while for work to turn into a pleasant experience, but once it is done it becomes the most important relationship that anyone has ever had, the relationship you have with yourself. "