9 Dec 2010

Downtime and the Danger of (its) Extinction.

I wanted to share a blog post over at 'the99percent' that has really struck a chord with me. It's an article about the importance of interruption-free space for creative thinking.

2/365 Days - Pen and PaperThese past few days, I've been trying to focus exclusively on my novel. I found it impossible. There were phone calls, text messages and an annoying letter in the mail that needed urgent attention. And of course: the Internet. Facebook, Twitter, emails, mailing lists that always seem to explode when it's really cold outside, etcetera.

Still, I am painfully aware how easy it would be to avoid many of those distractions. If I really wanted to. And ay, there's the rub: something inside me keeps drawing me back to my technologically-induced connections. For some reason, they seem very important.

It made me wonder: are they, really?

Would my real friendships or family bonds fade if I didn't see these loved ones' status updates? Or they mine? Would the quality of my life diminish if I didn't read every single email or tweet shared by the communities I feel part of?

I'm so sure they wouldn't. So I thought a bit more about it: if this constant connectivity doesn't make a fundamental difference, why do our brains keep directing us there?

The article I mentioned above pointed out a number of very plausible reasons:
  • 'space is scary': having time to think about possibly anything, having time alone with our minds, can be very confrontational. So we look for distraction to avoid the confrontation.
  • 'interaction with others affects our self-esteem': I am sure this is a lot more true for extraverts than introverts, but that doesn't make it any less relevant. The constant connection and quick feedback to our walls, tweets or blogs, makes it possible to feel valued, reassured, part of a greater whole and even loved: instantly, and nearly all the time.

I wanted to add another reason of my own, that ties in closely with that last one:

Because of the internet, and the possibilities of connecting with people far away, our communities have expanded, not necessarily in numbers (because we only have so much awareness, attention and other brain capacity), but geographically.

As a result, we are no longer just relying on our immediate physical environment for good conversation, friendship, mental and emotional connection, a sense of 'family'. We can cherry-pick those people we 'click' with most, regardless of where they live.

And because this extended family is often not around during the more tedious bits of everyday life, they're less likely to stuff up or be associated with mundane matters, and more likely to be a great doorway to the 'charged' and intense and deeper interaction we crave.

Add to that the huge holes in the information that's actually conveyed in online communication (we miss out on tone of voice, body language, facial expressions, etc.), which means that our brain needs to fill in many more blanks in the message. Our brains do that from (reconstructed) memory and imagination, which i slikely to confirm the ideas we already have and to reinforce us in who we are. And yay: more good vibes!

And really, this is great. It's extremely valuable and I am incredibly grateful for all the people I have met and got to know this way. I've had several of my best conversations and most precious experiences with some of them. This connectivity can expand our horizons and make our minds more free.
But there is a downside: it can make our minds less free as well, if we allow it to take up our 'sacred space', our 'creative pauses', our much needed downtime.

Central Park, NY. October 2004
I've certainly been thinking about that a lot, these past few days. I'm trying to be a lot more conscious about that sacred space, being my own best friend by reminding me to shut down my laptop regularly, to make plans to meet up 'for real', to go for walks, take bubble baths, and read more (Edgar Allen Poe, for now). And what's interesting: I still have just as much time for writing!

You can find Scott Belsky's original article here, and there are some great tips and ideas about this topic at the Sabbath Manifesto!
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