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Solitude and exceptionalism

Rob Drilea
Rob Drilea
2 min read
Solitude and exceptionalism

This quote captured my attention this morning because on a recent trip out of town, driving for the first time in months, I realized how little time I personally spend alone with my own thoughts anymore.

There's always something to read, something to learn, a podcast, a video, a class, so even when I'm alone, I'm rarely in solitude.

It's an indisputable fact of modern living that there are fewer opportunities for deep solitude, and the cost of solitude seems to increase as the opportunities to engage with others, synchronously or asynchronously, multiply all the time.

Does it mean that it's more difficult to become an exceptional person?

The quote is comforting and perhaps even encouraging if you're inclined toward solitude, but is it really true? If it is, how many exceptional people die a quiet, slow death by solitude for every solitary exceptional that the world gets to hear about?

True solitude is exceedingly rare in a world where most people have internet access. Choosing (or pursuing) physical solitude doesn't necessarily mean you're intellectually solitary. Even in the absence of internet and people, you can spend a lifetime alone, but not in solitude, if you're an ardent reader.

Surely, solitude and loneliness aren't one and the same - there's a discomfort in loneliness that doesn't necessarily exist in solitude, in being with yourself intentionally.

The paradox of the internet is that while it has decreased opportunities for being in solitude, it is also magnifying loneliness. This happens in ways that continue to evolve too - before a pandemic that has necessarily isolated most of us from one another, watching others be together from the loneliness of your screen was one thing.

But there's a loneliness in feeling left out of social networks that are exclusively online too.

I intentionally framed the screenshot to include the Clubhouse reference, for two reasons.

  1. I think Clubhouse is a natural evolution of online communities that may have had a really difficult time gaining a foothold in the absence of a pandemic. But now that we crave synchronous conversations, it fills a need. (I wonder if it'll survive for long in a post-pandemic world.)
  2. I couldn't help but notice the irony of glorifying solitude in a conversation on Clubhouse.

The more I think about it, the less I can imagine a place for solitude online.

The closest I can come to is here, when I'm faced with an empty page.

Photo by Rostyslav Savchyn via Unsplash.

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Rob Drilea

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