Of the mind’s many aptitudes, the most remarkable is its power of association, the ability to see new relationships among things. The brain is the most amazing associative device ever created, with its roughly 100 billion neurons connected in as many as a quadrillion different ways–more connections than there are stars in the known universe. Digital devices are, in one sense, a tremendous gift to the associative process because they link us to so many sources of information. The potential they hold out for creative insights and synthesis is breathtaking. The best human creativity, however, happens only when we have the time and mental space to take a new thought and follow it wherever it leads.
William Powers, Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age
Waking at 4:40 this morning in the predawn darkness came as a surprise, as well as a reminder that I had retired to bed early last night, exhausted by the past 48 hours of work-related activity. Returning from my restful two-week St. Louis vacation, I plunged immediately into the headwaters of new semesters at Texas Wesleyan University and Martin High School. After two days of meetings and conferences on both campuses, I collapsed and slept very well last night. So, refreshed and unable to return to sleep, I stretched, smiled into the darkness, rose and headed for the shower.
Rapturous solitude has enveloped me the past two hours, and I am smiling inwardly, knowing I still have two hours before my first meeting today. Coffee, sketching, reading and journaling have managed to combust some energy and enthusiasm for this new day. I now sense the percolating coffee pot as a metaphor for what my brain is doing. And drawing a sea shell has been relaxing, helping me ponder over things that matter in my life.
This book was given to me as a surprise gift over the weekend (how timely, just as school is beginning!), and I cannot say enough about how it has seized my attention in the richest manner. Throughout my adulthood, I have believed that a creative life demands solitude and a controlled focus that filters out distractions from a myriad of sources demanding attention. From my graduate school days, I have been excruciatingly aware of the difficulty of thinking and maturing ideas when deadly schedules filled every hour of every waking day. I was told that it would never get any better, and that I must learn while still in school to get control of this. I was told the truth. At age 61, I can honestly testify that my life has never slowed down, that work schedules and appointments have always demanded attention, and I never found a way to add a 25th hour to the daily schedule.
Six years ago, I added something to my daily work schedule: I took up this blog about the same time that I purchased a smart phone. Since then, every day, this phone has jangled to get my attention that something is happening somewhere–email, text message, phone call, private message, facebook, blog response–and I responded as failthfully as possible until I found myself in a spot where I worried that if I skip a day posting on my blog, I would become irrelevant. The digital age had managed to take over my life. How serendipitous for this book to arrive now, at the fulness of time.
William Powers does not trash our new technology. Rather, he argues that it serves us best when we create space for the richness of a “connection” to sink in, to take root in our lives, rather than clicking on to the next response, the next, and the next, etc. He’s right. The richness of a creative life evolving is still right there for the taking, but it requires some time, some quiet, some space, some slow down. And the digital obsession can crowd out creative expression just as effectively as a crowded social schedule, or working too many hours at jobs. Thirty-five years ago, I learned that I would think better and perform better as a graduate student if I would set aside a quiet time and space to sort out my thoughts and write reflectively, instead of cramming in one or two more books for research and footnotes. It became imperative to stop and let the ideas compost so they could flower into something precious. Today, I seek ways to turn off the digital machine periodically so I can sort out the gifts presented to me and see if I can find a more creative way to express these ideas and images, and so enrich my world and ours.
Thanks for reading. I’m not sure where this new insight will take me, but I trust it.
I make art in order to focus.
I journal always when alone.
I blog, knowing I am never really alone (and I like that).