Monday, December 5, 2011

Solitude vs. Isolation

The work of making requires focus and concentration. Makers take care to create workspaces free from clutter and distraction so that nothing interferes with the work. This means that solitude is often part of the workspace.

Some people are turned off by that fact. They say, "I need people. I wouldn't ever want to be so isolated."

Makers understand the critical difference between solitude and isolation. While they may spend a non-trivial amount of time alone, makers are never lonely. There is, of course, the work: in the process of its becoming, the work is an entity with which the maker interacts in a give and take that can be as lively as a good conversation.

At a deeper level, however, the work itself connects makers with their community and the wider world. As the very act of eating acknowledges our mortality and dependence on food for our very lives, the act of making acknowledges that there are things outside of ourselves that have has much right to exist as we do.

The despair of users is bred in isolation. Their isolation begins with the fact that, as the center of their own universe, no one is as important as they are. And as the centers of their own little universes, making (or anything else for that matter) is only significant to the extent that it provides some benefit to the user. Put another way, the idea of doing something to make things better in general doesn't compute for users.

True making is never an isolated activity because we make for others. Putting words in a persistent medium, for example, embodies our hope that someone else will read them. Realizing that something will make the world better is sufficient to motivate a maker to undertake the project.

Many makers cherish solitude as a rare and precious gift. If, in your own work, you begin to feel isolated, take that as a sign that something is amiss, whether with the project or your approach to it.

Image: Bill Longshaw /

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