Benjamin Franklin on the Balance Between Solitude and Company by Cal Newport

March 28, 2020

In response to yesterday’s post about quiet creativity, a reader asked the following question in the comments:

“Here’s my question: How can digital minimalism and deep work be adapted for extroverted people who want to do deep work and lead a digital minimalist life — but also satiate a voracious appetite for human interaction?”

A few other commenters subsequently emphasized this question, which I think is a good one and worth discussion. We can find some insights into this issue in the journals of a young Benjamin Franklin. In August 25, 1726, a twenty-year-old Franklin was more than a month into sea voyage from London back to Philadelphia when he recorded the following entry:

“I have read abundance of fine things on the subject of solitude, and I know ’tis a common boast in the mouths of those that affect to be thought wise, that they are never less alone than when alone. I acknowledge solitude an agreeable refreshment to a busy mind; but were these thinking people obliged to be always alone, I am apt to think they would quickly find their very being insupportable to them.”

There’s a healthy dose of Aristotelean moderation in this observation. Time alone with your thoughts is necessary: it refreshes your mind and enables insights. Too much time alone, however, quickly becomes “insupportable.”

This is, I believe, a reasonable answer to my reader’s question. Embrace your extroversion, but not 100% of the time. A quiet walk in the woods, or a summer spent staring at the rolling Atlantic, will serve its purpose, but such seclusion need not become a total way of life.

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