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On Solitude

It’s hard to ignore the fact that the entirety of Storr’s list of remarkable lives, as well as many of the other historical examples cited above, focus on men. As Virginia Woolf argued in her 1929 feminist manifesto, A Room of One’s Own, this imbalance should not come as a surprise. Woolf would agree with Storr that solitude is a prerequisite for original and creative thought, but she would then add that women had been systematically denied both the literal and figurative room of their own in which to cultivate this state. To Woolf, in other words, solitude is not a pleasant diversion, but instead a form of liberation from the cognitive oppression that results in its absence.

In Woolf’s time, women were denied this liberation by a patriarchal society. In our time, this oppression is increasingly self-“inflicted by our preference for the distraction of the digital screen. This is the theme taken up by a Canadian social critic named Michael Harris in his 2017 book, also titled Solitude. Harris is concerned that new technologies help create a culture that undermines time alone with your thoughts, noting that “it matters enormously when that resource is under attack.” His survey of the relevant literature then points to three crucial benefits provided by solitude: “new ideas; an understanding of the self; and closeness to others.

– Cal Newport in his book Digital Minimalism