Jenny Judge writes on solitude at The Guardian, specifically on “the search for solitude in an internet of things.” I think it’s a fascinating topic:

Solitude has long been the condition for inspiration. John the Baptist fled to the desert; Descartes retreated to his fireside; Mahler took refuge in his lakeside cabin. Through solitude, religious, intellectual or creative enlightenment can be reached. As Nietzsche said: “How can anyone become a thinker if he does not spend at least a third of the day without passions, people and books?”

Solitude involves some degree of social withdrawal, but it is not necessarily a state of loneliness. “I have never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude,” declared Thoreau; the philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer describes it as friendship with oneself. Solitude may be enjoyed “in the midst of cities and the courts of kings”, as French philosopher Montaigne observed in the 16th century – but, he said, “it is enjoyed more handily alone”.

Developing a capacity for solitude is extremely valuable. I think it lies at the heart of an appreciation for the humanities. It’s also a competitive advantage in an era of new distractions:

Montaigne thought that the most admirable way to live was not to seek to own more, to do more, or to be more. “The greatest thing in the world,” he wrote, “is to know how to belong to ourselves.” The internet of things doesn’t have to usher in the death of solitude. On the contrary: it could herald its return.

I think the best tech becomes invisible and subtle, in the sense of becoming like a utility. Pencil and paper are examples of this. 

The “internet of things” requires thoughtfulness and tastefulness from its designers and its consumers in terms of the sort of tech we embrace. Will our homes become entirely characterized by their technical capacities, or will the tech within them be restrained and moderate in nature?

Whenever I buy some new piece of tech, a question I ask is whether it’ll represent another demand on my time, no matter how small. If it is, it’ll compete with the moments of solitude that home exists to foster, and it probably doesn’t belong.

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