I have seen this resilience during my own research at a
device-free summer camp. At a nightly cabin chat, a group of
14-year-old boys spoke about a recent three-day wilderness hike.
Not that many years ago, the most exciting aspect of that hike
might have been the idea of roughing it or the beauty of unspoiled
nature. These days, what made the biggest impression was being
phoneless. One boy called it “time where you have nothing to do
but think quietly and talk to your friends.” The campers also
spoke about their new taste for life away from the online feed.
Their embrace of the virtue of disconnection suggests a crucial
connection: The capacity for empathic conversation goes hand in
hand with the capacity for solitude.
In solitude we find ourselves; we prepare ourselves to come to
conversation with something to say that is authentic, ours. If we
can’t gather ourselves, we can’t recognize other people for who
they are. If we are not content to be alone, we turn others into
the people we need them to be. If we don’t know how to be alone,
we’ll only know how to be lonely.