What to Read This Weekend: The End of Solitude


This week I am recommending one gorgeous essay by the always-thoughtful William Deresiewicz.

It’s called “The End of Solitude.” Here’s a teaser:

If boredom is the great emotion of the TV generation, loneliness is the great emotion of the Web generation. They have lost the ability to be alone, their capacity for solitude. And losing solitude, what have they lost?

First, the propensity for introspection, that examination of the self that the Puritans, and the Romantics, and the modernists (and Socrates, for that matter) placed at the center of spiritual life — of wisdom, of conduct. Thoreau called it fishing “in the Walden Pond of [our] own natures,” “bait[ing our] hooks with darkness.” Lost, too, is the related propensity for sustained reading. The Internet brought text back into a televisual world, but it brought it back on terms dictated by that world — that is, by its remapping of our attention spans. Reading now means skipping and skimming; five minutes on the same Web page is considered an eternity. This is not reading as Marilynne Robinson described it: the encounter with a second self in the silence of mental solitude. Read more here...

Have a great weekend!

(And, as always, I’d love to hear what you think of the essay.)




  1. Poppy on 12.06.2011 at 01:13 (Reply)


    Part of me, on reading that, wants to cheer - this is the second time this year that I personally have now seen media urging us to re-think the need for solitude; if I’ve seen two pieces, how many more are there that I haven’t seen - while the rest of me wants a personality transplant instead of continuing to justify my need for solitude on a regular basis.

    It’s a hopeful thing, I think, that people are starting to talk more and more about the need for solitude, to point back at some of the great minds in history (I’m reading Montaigne’s work now, after hearing about his decision to seek solitude - there’s a very nice quote in his essay on education saying that one of the criticisms people leveled at him was “Too much on his own!”) as examples of what can be done with sufficient solitude.

    This stuck out at me:
    the young people — and they still exist — who prefer to loaf and invite their soul, who step to the beat of a different drummer. But if solitude disappears as a social value and social idea, will even the exceptions remain possible?

    1. Susan Cain on 15.06.2011 at 10:49 (Reply)

      Hi Poppy,
      Thx for your comment. What were the media pieces you saw this year urging us to re-think our need for solitude? Would love to know!

      1. Poppy on 15.06.2011 at 11:15 (Reply)

        The last one I saw before reading this was Ben Fullerton’s talk at Wisdom 2.0, which I mentioned in another comment - the link is here: http://www.wisdom2summit.com/Media/single_post/2011-conference-designing-for-solitude-by-ben-fullerton

        After reading this, I pulled up some other articles from Psychology Today blogs - the best were from “Living Single” - and from a blog that I stumbled across in my search called Good Life Zen, which had something here: http://goodlifezen.com/2010/07/29/the-power-of-solitude-taking-time-to-reset/

        1. Susan Cain on 15.06.2011 at 12:49 (Reply)


  2. Danielle on 12.06.2011 at 21:06 (Reply)

    “But if solitude disappears as a social value and social idea, will even the exceptions remain possible? Still, one is powerless to reverse the drift of the culture. One can only save oneself — and whatever else happens, one can still always do that. But it takes a willingness to be unpopular.”

    And to seem impolite.

    So very true, especially in this age of Reality TV. Nothing is sacred anymore. But I pledge to be one of the exceptions. I love my aloneness. I need it like I need air to breathe. I need peace of mind and serenity at this point in my life and will stand up to protect it if need be.

  3. Danielle on 12.06.2011 at 21:20 (Reply)

    I just looked up the Twitter page of Robert Mirabal, of one of my favorite native singers and he states that the best travel advice he can give is “Earplugs and and a head pillow”. It was so in keeping with the subject of solitude I thought I’d share it with you.

  4. Ann on 13.06.2011 at 13:38 (Reply)

    I felt more peaceful just reading this essay - it was beautifully written. I have always felt weird for craving a certain amount of solitude; I’ve described it to my husband as “my people-bucket is full”, but I’m not taking care of myself if I don’t make time to be alone.

    I especially liked his definitions of loneliness and boredom, as negative connotations for states of being should be positive. I am rarely bored - it usually means that I’m too tired to function and should get some rest.

    I’m keeping this one to re-read - thanks for sharing!

    1. Ann on 13.06.2011 at 13:48 (Reply)

      Oops - that should have been “states of being that should be positive”. Apologies, I didn’t proof well enough while editing. :-)

  5. Sally Stanton on 27.06.2011 at 07:22 (Reply)

    I stumbled on the NYT article yesterday and was thrilled. A celebration of introverts and shyness? I’ve spent my life defending my need for plentiful solitude, and been made to feel guilty (by myself as well)for making excuses to avoid large parties or any events with lots of people. And I always resented that grading in school included ‘class participation.’ Did the bloviating blowhards whose hands shot up at every question get a better grade because of their ease in that environment? But I have found online classes quite introvert- friendly and my ‘class participation’ shot way up when I could write my ideas instead of speaking them. Thanks for pointing out the positives. Looking forward to reading more!

  6. Jon on 29.06.2011 at 17:14 (Reply)

    Wow, the Deresiewicz essay was luminous, and I never would have seen it without your blog. So thanks for that!

    The essay actually made me feel much the same way as I felt on reading certain poems by Thomas Merton (who knew a thing or two about solitude). To wit: Hey, I’m *not* crazy for recognizing (and valuing) my need for solitary time. Much to the contrary, the rest of my society seems to be constructing a special kind of insanity by engineering solitude out of existence. WD’s comparison of solitude:loneliness to idleness:boredom is juicy food for thought.

  7. Anon on 14.08.2011 at 11:43 (Reply)

    Hi there!

    I’d like to know the name of the artist that did the painting pls (or did you do it yourself?).
    Great essay btw - keep up the good work :)

    1. Susan Cain on 14.08.2011 at 11:56 (Reply)

      I’m so sorry, i can’t recall where I found this painting! Didn’t do it myself, though I wish I had that talent.

  8. Solitude | offthefrontporch on 02.12.2011 at 20:35

    […] credit here.) Share this:FacebookTwitterEmailStumbleUponMorePrintLinkedInLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

  9. James Preller’s Blog » Blog Archive » James Preller Interview: “Along Came Spider,” The Writing Process, Asperger’s, Atticus Finch, and More on 07.03.2012 at 09:06

    […] Look, I wanted to pitch for the New York Mets. When that didn’t work out –- and it became clear very early on –- I had to move on to Plan B. As a teenager, I kept a journal, wrote poems, scribbled lyrics to imaginary songs. Maybe it was a product of being the youngest, but even though I was intensely social, I was always able to be alone. For writers, that’s essential. You have to be okay with solitude. […]

  10. Connie Merriman on 30.09.2012 at 00:09 (Reply)


    I just Googled an old artwork of mine, “Solitude,” and it led me here.

    I see in one of the comments that someone asked who the artist is. That would be me. Thank-you for the compliment.

    It’s funny how often I see it being used, and nobody knows its origin. I suppose that’s because I originally posted it on an old blog, and I allowed a couple of other people to use it.

    At any rate, I’m flattered that you liked it.


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