Solitude, foundation of conversation

If mastery matters in our lives, it follows that reasoned and moderated use of our technologies and devices matters, too. Prudence (often meaning “moderation”, but more expansive than this) is one of the cardinal virtues, and it’s a virtue I know doesn’t typically describe my own relationship with my devices. These things empower us as much as they drain us. Micah Harris writes:

Turkle organizes the book by an epigraph from Thoreau’s Walden: “I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.” Her argument: good conversation springs from solitude while solitude is, in turn, enriched by conversation. And technology disrupts both. Unless we choose to be its master.

Smartphones promise that we will never be alone and never be bored. We reach for them to fill the unscheduled spaces in our lives. But it is when we are unoccupied and alone that our minds play. We ponder who we are and negotiate terms with the griefs and joys in our lives. According to research (a phrase used many times in this book) our minds are most creative when we are alone. In solitude we understand who we are to the people in our lives and, indeed, to ourselves. Thus solitude is the foundation of conversation.

When we’re stuck on long commutes, when we’re cooped up in homes in our disconnected suburbs, when the serendipity of community life is diminished because of the design of our cities and towns, what else is there to do but to turn from the world of living people to the devices that moderate and control our interaction with people?

I think the aesthetics of our daily lives impacts our ability to moderate our relationship with devices. This means that intentionally choosing where we will live, where we will work, and what we want our daily life to look are really the central questions.