I am the last of my kind, so I think
I'll put all my eggs safely in one basket.
(From a humorous cartoon I saw once.)
Most of us have heard, read, or watched a tale about a future world in which all privacy has been eliminated. It usually starts off in the name of benevolent protection of the people from an enemy, and inevitably the people themselves become the enemy. Orwell's 1984, the Wachowski brothers' The Matrix, Alan Moore's V for Vendetta, these are entertaining and thought-provoking.
Poster based on Orwell's 1984
But I never gave the premise enough concern to do anything about it personally. Until in a recent documentary, scholars demonstrated how the internet, cell phones, sophisticated non-stop consumer advertisement, astounding and increasingly ubiquitous surveillance capabilities, tracking and information devices on everything from consumer goods to pets and people, and other technologies, are making the world into a place where privacy and solitude are going the way of the Dodo bird.
"You have zero privacy now. Get over it."
Scott McNealy, CEO, Sun Microsystems, 1999
This small meditation is not about stirring up dire Orwellian predictions. But I am convinced that, in the face of these developments, unless we each take deliberate steps in our lives, solitude (significant quiet time that recharges and nourishes your mind, soul and faith) will become an endangered or even extinct practice.
Photo: Chris Otten, Camerahead Project (Devoted
to calling attention to America becoming a land
of surveillance cameras).
This truth came home to me not by reading and watching V for Vendetta, but during one of those moments of confirmation that come when prayer and a growing conviction collide with a seeming coincidence.
My wife Anita and I were driving in the Lake Elmo region of Minnesota looking for a mom and pop garden nursery. It was clear from the bleached buffalo bones and tumble weeds that we had strayed quite off the beaten path of civilization. Just then, something like a resort campground came into view, and a man ambling casually down the wooded trail towards the roadway where we waited to ask him for directions.
As soon as he was within earshot, I called out, "Excuse me! Can we trouble you for some directions?" He walked over to the car and gave us the directions that would thereafter get us to our destination. After he had finished speaking, I asked, "What is this place? It's beautiful. Do you live here?" He responded that it was the Jesuit Retreat Center at Demontreville in Lake Elmo, that he had come there seeking God in solitude and silence, and that his words to me were the first he had spoken in a week.
Now I may not be the sharpest knife on the butcher block, but even I knew that at that moment I represented precisely what spiritual adepts throughout the ages have gone to monasteries, retreats, deserts and remote mountains to get away from: the tyranny of the urgent, a mad whirling dervish of a world that will have us body and soul if we let it.
As I enter a new phase of my life I have become increasingly determined to protect this endangered species; to practice some environmental clean-up in my little world so that quality solitude should not become extinct.
So far I have affirmed three classical principles:
1. Don't think of the whole journey; think of the first step.
2. A little done often is better than a lot done rarely.
3. And third, with thanks to Jedi Master Yoda: "Do, or do not. There is no try."