Even for a five-year-old, my son has big emotions. He and my wife were chatting in our hallway recently. She stepped into another room—just a few feet away—to change our two-year-old daughter’s clothes. “But I don’t want to be alone!” our son yelled, as if an unbridgeable chasm had opened between him and the girls he could still nearly touch.
His exaggerated protest had little to do with loneliness. He was really saying, “I don’t want to be a non-player in this scene. I don’t want to be insignificant.”
We are all my son.
Our much-discussed crisis of distraction today is, put differently, a crisis of solitude. We don’t want to disconnect, even though indulging screen time instead of stillness is taking a toll on our mental health. We know that, in contrast, measured idleness is good for us and can actually catalyze creative breakthrough. And entire shelves of Christian books adjure us about how God transforms our lives through solitude.
Yet we (read: “I”) summon all manner of reasonable excuses for shirking solitude. Career demands. Family needs. Ministry opportunities. Beneath all these, however, lies a deeper problem: fear of insignificance. Solitude forces us into positions of uselessness, at least temporarily. Sequestered in the wilderness or in a room away from my smartphone, I feel unimportant, unable to do anything for anyone. I am unseen.
There are echoes of Richard Foster here, but thinkers from Pascal to Nietzsche have also noted the pervasive effects of the fear-distraction nexus. Consider, for example, its role in perpetuating America’s urban-rural divide. The buzz of elite cities has a way of charging study, work, and even play with ...1