Modern information and communication technologies have brought a lot of good to the world. However, one thing they definitely do not promote is the ability to concentrate oneself on thinking Deep Thoughts. Gone are the days that letters took forever to arrive, and one could, for lack of disturbance or perhaps even out of sheer boredom, focus oneself on thinking things through, working on that One Idea for years on end. Increasingly, the electronically-mediated rat race forces one to push paper, pardon me, forward e-mails, at ever increasing speeds. Dozens of projects, hundreds of meetings, what happened to the Time To Think?! Somehow, in myself, in many friends and colleagues, and in society at large, I sense the urgency to be able to get away from it all, to stop the madness, in order to get that book written, that theory clearly outlined, or simply being able to glue all the chaotic conceptual fragments whirling around in one's head into something that makes sense again. Somehow, we need to reclaim our space to reflect.
Easier said than done. At work, time to think deeply does not exist anymore. At home, there are too many distractions by family, friends, or colleagues from work who assume you're not really unavailable... Of course, holidays are an option, but mass-tourism destinations, with all the stress of multitudes of people, finding your way around, and building up some rudimentary form of social life, are not really suitable as well.
My best thinking, growing the roots for my current line of research, I have done while living the happy, simple life on remote islands off the Malaysian coast and in the mighty forests of Canada. Now, those semi/post-student days are definitely gone. I do not have the luxury anymore to wander around for weeks and months before discovering those magnificent places and getting established there. Still, I would love to get back into such a mentally-enriching context, but in a more efficient way than in those good old days.
My dream for many years has been to be able to spend a couple of months a year on such a remote location, doing my thinking and main writing there, then return to 'The World' to work out these ideas, and keep my projects and contacts going. Instead of losing this dream as I am growing older and wiser, it has only become stronger! There are really big thoughts inside of me, but I do need the mental peace to be able to formulate them that work and home do not provide. Recently, my sense of urgency got stronger, when I read about the very original TribeWanted project. The aim of this project is to get 5,000 people together who can spend part of the year on a Fijian island, creating a partially physical, partially online community. Although it conjures up romantic images of bounty islands, working in the mornings, lazing about in the afternoon, and partying at night, it does not quite work for my purpose. First of all: it is very expensive, both in getting to Fiji and in membership fees. Second, it is massive: there are too many people involved. Third, it requires one to commit oneself to one particular community in one geographical location. What we need to get the 'Freedom to Philosophize'-project going is something different, however.
Here are some ideas:
- What we need is a network of Thinking Locations all over the world with very flexible conditions. Thinkers need to be able to select a location that is closeby, far away, stay for only a couple of days, or for many months, come back to the same location over and over again, or select a different one each time, and so on.
- The locations should take away as much as possible the logistical burdens normally involved when travelling: transportation, utilities (including Internet), meals, and so on should all be taken care off as much as possible. No luxury needed, but basic necessities need to be covered.
- The locations should provide simple, but comfortable lodging, with enough privacy, quiet, and natural scenery to maximize the space for and quality of reflection. Internet should be available on site, but not necessarily in each room, so as to allow for the necessary information retrieval and e-mailing to be done, but to also legitimately be able to say that connectivity is limited, to keep bosses, friends, and family where they belong: far away.
- The locations could be provided by existing bed and breakfasts, people living out there in the middle of nowhere, or by individuals who like to meet creative people working on interesting, innovative projects. A precondition is that the lodging is affordable , easy to reach by public transport, or through some other affordable arrangement. The main goal is not to get pampered with luxury, but to be able to have longer-term stays in relative isolation, without having to worry too much about the financial expense.
- The social component is very important, and perhaps one of the unique aspect of such a Deep Thought-network: thinkers need on the one hand to be able to concentrate, focus, and withdraw from the world. On the other hand, they very much need to be able to talk with kindred spirits, preferably people working on their own creative projects. Still, there needs to be a mutual understanding that the main goal is to find concentration, so that, yes, there is ample opportunity for conversation and having a beer, but, no, it is not Club Med where partying is the main activity.
Could we build such a Thinking Community? I think it should be feasible. I have talked to many friends about it, and they are all very enthusiastic about starting such a network. All we would initially need is a simple set of principles that all members of this community agree upon, like the ones listed above; some initial requesters and suppliers of good thinking locations to test out and refine the principles; and some web portal where people offering and asking for locations can meet, discuss, and evolve the idea.
Do you share my and many other desperately-seeking thinkers' dream? Join us in making it come true! The world could be a better place if all that creative power finally gets a chance to be unleashed...