Create: Day 73

Day 73
This is your brain on technology.

Turn me off! Adapted from photo by Florisla.

Let’s implement unplugged creative weekends: no email, internet, television, phone, or cell phone.

Does it give you the shakes, my friend? Me, too.

And certainly most aspects of my creative life have been enhanced by technology. I’m old enough to remember typing and editing and retyping on typewriters.  It was a slog.

I was also heavy library user, always researching this or that, and sometimes not coming up with answers. Now, no matter what crosses your consciousness, you can delve deeper without even leaving home (or your easy chair).

I was an early adapter of desktop publishing technologies, too, and still use InDesign and Photoshop, two programs that expanded my creative life.

However, no matter what else you’re doing, the intrusion of Facebook, Twitter, wasteful web surfing, and email contributes to a lack of focus.

Just how technology is affecting our brains, our intellects, and our creativity is the subject of two recent books and several articles in both The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. I have not yet read the books, but the articles are well worth your consideration.

The article Merely Human? That’s So Yesterday talks about the Singularity, a science-fiction feeling era in which:

” a superior intelligence will dominate, and life will take on an altered form that we can’t predict or comprehend in our current, limited state. At that point, the Singularity holds, human beings and machines will so effortlessly and elegantly merge that poor health, the ravages of old age and even death itself will all be things of the past.”

This article gives a fascinating, frightening, but overall positive view of how technology will affect the future of the human race.

In the piece Does the Internet Make You Smarter? Clay Shirky, author of Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age argues that even though much content on the web is not worthwhile, our lives are improved dramatically by it. He uses Wikipedia as an example:

“Wikipedia took the idea of peer review and applied it to volunteers on a global scale, becoming the most important English reference work in less than 10 years. Yet the cumulative time devoted to creating Wikipedia, something like 100 million hours of human thought, is expended by Americans every weekend, just watching ads. It only takes a fractional shift in the direction of participation to create remarkable new educational resources….”

Makes you feel good about the way things are going, doesn’t it?

That is, until you hear from Nicolas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, in Does the Internet Make You Dummer? He begins his argument by quoting the Roman philosopher Seneca who said, 2,000 years ago,

“To be everywhere is to be nowhere.”

And goes on,

“Today, the Internet grants us easy access to unprecedented amounts of information. But a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the Net, with its constant distractions and interruptions, is also turning us into scattered and superficial thinkers.

When we’re constantly distracted and interrupted, as we tend to be online, our brains are unable to forge the strong and expansive neural connections that give depth and distinctiveness to our thinking. We become mere signal-processing units, quickly shepherding disjointed bits of information into and then out of short-term memory.”

Unlike Shirky, Carr goes to science for answers and cites studies that show our brains are being reconfigured in ways that discourage sustained immersion and concentration.


The New York Times article by Matt Richtel, Hooked on Gadgets and Paying a Mental Price, puts together scientific studies and personal stories, revealing that although the Internet helps us become better at finding information, we’re also being rewired in negative ways.  Tara Parker Pope covers some of the same ground in An Ugly Toll of Technology: Impatience and Forgetfulness.

My take? Let’s embrace technology that helps us realize creative potential, but be wary of disrupting the intense focus we need for creative projects. Read the full articles and see whether you agree.

How about unplugged weekends? At least once a month?

Create Month 3
What to do so far:

In case you missed a day, the reminders below are clickable.

Turn unproductive activity into creativity.

Kill the angel and tell the truth.
Try ephemeral art.

Take a road trip.

Implement the 7 habits of creative people.

Don’t wait for inspiration.

Avoid online undermine.
Create at any age.
Make a portable Creation Station.

Use something taboo in your art.
Consider implementing unplugged weekends.

Need a refresher for Create Month 2? Click here.

Need a refresher for Create Month 1? Click here.


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