Sunday, February 26, 2006

Privacy vs. Solitude

Quite a few years ago (1992, in fact), I had the opportunity to interview a very smart guy named David Liddle, who had been at Xerox PARC (the famous technology think tank that basically invented the interface for personal computing as we know it) during its heyday in the 70s, co-founded (with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen) Interval Research Corporation, a Silicon Valley business incubator and is now a partner with a major venture capital firm. (The interview later led to a piece I wrote for Wired Magazine.)

During that interview, I asked him what would be the prized commodity of the future. His answer? “Solitude.” What I find especially interesting in retrospect is that he didn’t say “privacy.” My guess is that he knew that battle was basically unwinnable. (Though he did give some advice in that regard: “pay with cash.”) Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems has said “You have no privacy – get over it.” With President Bush feeling it is entirely within his powers to order warrantless wiretaps, it’s probably time we all got over it.

Then, as Mr. Liddle predicted, we can narrow our search from privacy to mere solitude. Which, as he accurately predicted, is becoming ever harder to find. Sure, you can turn off your cell phone or refuse to own a BlackBerry or put yourself on the no-call list – but you better be certain you’re happy with being a part of the secondary economy, because if you aren’t fully-connected, you can’t fully contribute. Not saying that’s always a bad thing, just that many well-paying careers (and some not so lucrative ones) require almost 24/7 availability. If you want to be alone, you better have a stable source of income.

Which leads me to believe that that solitude is not rare as much as it is dear.

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