Turn off your computer
I’m starting to wonder if the best creativity booster of all, is to turn off your computer. I have long ago realised how easily and heavily I get addicted to web browsing, and even without an internet connection, I still think the computer is problematic for a number of reasons:
- Everything is so damn fast and effective! I’m not sure if our minds are able to efficiently process so much information in such a short time and make proper sense of it.
- Multitasking means there’s always another task or activity lurking in the back of my head, while the main task is being performed. I think one problem with all our technology is that we can theoretically get so many things done. The tasks add up, and we’re never content with what we have achieved.
- With such a wide variety of potential tasks or activities to engage in, it’s extremely easy to lose focus, or end up paralyzed by too many choices. We all know that having Facebook open while studying is a bad idea. In fact, I even managed to distract myself while writing this exact list point – true story!
Computers are better, but not really
Writing this blog post for hand was very, very slow compared to my super fast keyboard typing. I couldn’t save the text or make a backup copy, and I certainly couldn’t easily change the text if I changed my mind. “Inflexible, inefficient and old-fashioned” many might say.
Pen and paper have several obvious disadvantages, which make almost everyone consider a computer the best option. Speed, efficiency, flexibility, ease of distribution; technically, computers are undoubtedly superior.
Yet, it feels immensly liberating to write this with pen and paper. The absence of distractions is fantastic, but the most considerable difference is what the work pace seems to be doing with the thinking.
Slow is the way to go
I don’t know exactly what it is, but I imagine that the brain finally gets to work at its own tempo; the ideas are given time to ripen. As Laozi said: “Nature never hurries, yet everything is accomplished”.
When writing by hand, I feel far more thoughtful and far more focused. The computer is fast and multitask-oriented, whereas my ideas come under slow and focused conditions.
After the ideas are done, that’s when it can be useful to take advantage of technology where its superiority lies, such as typing these words and spreading them to the world. I do notice however that just typing while on the computer is making me a little stressed.
There are plenty of non-computer activities which can be incredibly beneficial to the development of ideas. Variety is the spice of life.
Many people long after better equipment. Since the ideas are the most important thing in music production, you can’t blame the lack of equipment anymore. All you need is imagination, a $1 notebook and a $1 pen. Besides, everyone has a computer , and a laptop, and a cellphone/minicomputer, an mp3 player, an iPad, etc. Which brings me to:
Disconnect; it’s the polite thing to do
I might as well address something that bothers me, namely people’s dependence upon technology. I would like to encourage people not only to turn off their computer, but also to leave their cellphones or turn them off as often as possible.
I find it very rude to answer the phone in the middle of a conversation. What’s more important: Devoting your full attention and appreciation to the person you’re physically with, or choosing to prioritise the notification from your fancy pocket gadget?
Now that the cellphone really has become more of a super-versatile mini PC, I believe it’s more important than ever to firmly distinguish between our digital lives, and the interaction with those physically present among us. Other notifications such as e-mail, RSS, Facebook, etc. should also be disabled, and rather checked once or twice a day.
The notifications aren’t going anywhere, and unless you’re specifically expecting something at a certain time, missing them by a couple of hours is almost never an issue. It makes far more sense being concerned about missing the present moment in my opinion.
It’s only the past 10 years or so that we’ve set ourselves up to be available and updated at any given time. We were probably better off before that, and it works just as well now. Avoiding information overload is an extremely beneficial thing; there’s much more written on the topic at Zen Habits: http://zenhabits.net/infoholic/ and here: http://changethis.com/manifesto/show/34.04.LowInfo.
Below is a presentation by Barry Schwartz on the paradox of choice, which I believe reinforces my experiences with pen and paper:
I suspect this might be one of the most important topics I’ve come across here so far. I’ve been using pen and paper the past couple of days, and the difference is unbelievable. Going from stressful multitasking possibilities to slow, peaceful and thoughtful monotasking is one of the nicest experiences I’ve had in a long time.
When I’m using a computer, I can potentially be doing dozens of different things. I could read e-books on my computer, but that would be part of either actual or potential multitasking; it’s far nicer to read them on an e-reader. Similarly, I could write these posts on my computer, but that would also be actual or potential multitasking, and it’s far nicer to let the ideas ripen and flourish with pen and paper.
Also, making music isn’t about equipment, but ideas. After I’ve checked e-mail, RSS and forums, I’m turning off my computer, letting out a sigh of relief as the fans turn off, taking a sip of my cup of tea; just me, my pen and my paper. The pen is mightier than the computer.