Strength In Solitude Part 2: This Anxious Generation

An entire generation has “eliminated time alone with their thoughts from their lives,” and subsequently, it is this young generation who is experiencing tremendous spikes in anxiety and mental health deterioration.

The quoted line above is found on page 108 from the book Digital Minimalism by computer professor Cal Newport. The generation in question is the cohort born after 1995, what is dubbed the iGen generation, due to their growing up with the iPhone and social media during their developmental years.

This is an entire generation on information overload, not simply from the benefits of the internet culture (all libraries and peer reviewed journals available within a couple searches), but also the heavy costs (constant instant messaging with friends [and enemies], angry social media, cyber bullying, and more).

Newport introduces us to Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and a specific expert studying generational differences of the youth in America. That’s pretty specific. So when she says the following, I think we need to listen in:

“Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed,” Twenge writes, with much of this seemingly due to a massive increase in anxiety disorders. “It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades.”

Pg 106, Digital Minimalism

Just to elaborate further, Newport brings up what Twenge then believes with many other mental health professionals, “that these shifts in mental health correspond “exactly” to the moment when American smartphone ownership became ubiquitous.” (P 106)

Is there any wonder then about the rise of meditation in popular culture? And conversely answering why older generations are rolling their eyes over yoga-dog-chant-euphoric-whale-music-meditation efforts of the overburdened youth?

I believe the reactions of both generations, a spike in meditation to get away from a burning internal anxiety, and the sarcastic dismissive caricature of ‘weak’ younger generations who’ve never had it rough, are completely found within the context which follows.

Newport has a convincing argument in the solitude chapter of his book. It’s a message about overstimulation and what he calls ‘solitude deprivation.’

The younger iGen cohort needs meditation because they are never alone with their own thoughts. NEVER. The older generations have had this form of solitude for entire portions of their lives either working on the factory line, out in the field, in the cab of a semi-truck, or in the cubicle of a downtown high rise circa 1980.

Anyone born prior to 1995 can recall a large enough cumulative chunk of their life where they could have full dialogues in their own minds. And this is an incredibly important feature of the human psyche.

As constant connection is hitting the older generations and they resist in ways which make them sound anti-tech as the tape usually plays, the younger generations nearly have no choice in the matter. In their developmental years they’ve grown up with constant connection.

What gets me about all the research Newport addresses in his book about solitude, is the definitive strong correlation between increasing alone time within your own thoughts and greater satisfaction of life in general (ie, not as anxious).

I have guarded my times in coffee shops. I have become somewhat known for my coffee shop sitting. But I don’t do this because it is trendy or part of my urban planning curriculum or anything else really other than a great desire within myself for a calm third place.

Sure work can be quite. Home can be quite. But the noise of the coffee shop and the aesthetics trigger a ton of creative imageries in my mind. I simply need to sit in one for an undetermined period of time to settle myself. To read. To write.

I’m not an iGen cohort member. And when I think about my youth, I actually don’t even have to go that far back. I can recall my early college years in the mid-2000’s and remember being able to concentrate on my curriculum in the library.

Perhaps what I mistook was this urge to have a third place to meditate, to slow down and focus. Be in thought over the great theological and personal questions I find myself within. This retreat of solitude into a third place even with a social media page or IM app open in the background during my late 20’s served a crucial function. With slow and simple post-rock music playing in my headphones, I found myself, calm. Focused. Alone in my thought.

To realize an entire generation younger than me is struggling getting to this mental space of freedom as they sit in the same coffee shop I am, checking their Instagram DMs constantly, and reading a tweet about something wrong with society once again, I get it.

I really get it now. Because I was/am in the midst of the same battle for focus.

And the course correction towards the healthy benefits of proper solitude are going to be the most crucial battle moving forward in our world. Proper solitude.

Published by David Mieksztyn

I am a writer passing along what I've learned.

Join the Conversation


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: