After I wrote my article for SFWA.org about my hunt for the value of social media, I realized that I’ve reached a new “phase” in my experiment.
Whether it’s a side effect of not being plugged in twenty-four seven or not, my habits have slowed down considerably. It’s not just caffeine consumption; I’m processing information more slowly and thoroughly than I have in the past six months. After a fashion, this makes complete sense to me. Several studies have pointed out how the web changes not only the way we think, but rewires our brains. For example, you can read this article dubbed Author Nicholas Carr: The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires our Brains. Or check out Does the Internet Change the Way We Think? on Newsweek, where a neuroscientist makes the claim that it doesn’t.
Dealing with what I have been, I would argue that it absolutely has an impact on the way that I think and process information. Typical habits and personality quirks aside, what I suppose is this: because I’m not being bombarded with data point after data point, my mental response time has been adjusting to the lack of information I come across in a day. For the past two weeks, especially after being taken down with a nasty cold, my inertia has slowed.
If you’re keeping up with the analogies I’ve been giving, I’ve mentioned how it feels like I’ve been a student in a school of fish swimming this way and that, in perpetual motion. When I left the school, I headed toward the bottom of the ocean. At first, all I could see is a reef of coral because that was my destination. Then, I literally touched the sea floor and slowed to a halt.
Mind you, I’m not the type of person that can handle just “sitting still” for too long. At the bottom, though, I experienced something I haven’t in a long, long time — silence. Sheer, unadulterated, quiet. Then what? I can’t just sit there and wait until this experiment is over with. Right? Right. My thinking, is that in order for me to function more quickly, I either have to consume or process information more quickly, too. For me, the way to do that, is to become a student once again. To learn. To deliberately choose what I want to know, enhance or revisit.
For the past couple of years, there’s been a number of “personal development” type projects and initiatives I’ve always wanted to do but never got around to doing. Volunteer work. Revisiting my graphic design and layout skills. Running a 5K. (I have a long list.) In the past, the challenge I had, was that I was looking at these experiences from the perspective (or the visualization) that they were already done. So the progress from Point A to Point B (a.k.a. “the journey”) was lost in my expectations for constant progress. While the internet isn’t responsible for my demands (or expectations) of immediacy, I certainly believe it contributed to it. This is part of our culture — get it now. And in my mind, that’s not necessarily a good thing. We admire the artist who can paint an incredible portrait, but we don’t see the hours of practice. The same is true with just about any other creative talent out there — including writing. In a way, I feel talent and ingenuity have turned into thirty-second novelties. To be an expert at anything, takes time and experience. You can read the information and obtain substitute programs that’ll replicate certain tasks, but that’s not the same thing as doing it yourself.
What getting offline has done to my thought processes, is slow them down to the point where my mind cleared. Tabula rasa. Blank slate. By slowing down, I was able to get back to the basics in a valuable, meaningful way. Instead of submitting every short story I write, I’m playing around with techniques in a story I don’t intend to sell. Same goes for just about everything else I’m doing, too. Walk for fitness before run. Learn new jewelry-making techniques by focusing on basic designs before creating the ones I want. Etc. Etc.
Getting back to the “bottom of the ocean” analogy, I floated down onto the sea floor and stopped. Then, I realized I could go in any direction I wanted to, as opposed to following and connecting with the crowd. (In this case, quite literally. For to engage socially, you have to use the tools everyone else is using, too.) Once I clearly identified the areas I wanted to develop, then I started over from the beginning and am building momentum to create and do some really fun things. I’ll be showing you some of those projects over the next couple of weeks, too.
Now that I’ve got forward momentum on the personal development aspects, my next step is to speed up my productivity and get back to where it used to be. For that? I’m going to turn back to the clock and start building in some routines.
In the end, what’s happened here is a complete ideological shift by way of a slower thought process. Because I no longer feel compelled to share my knowledge or participate in a social network, I’m not proving or professing my expertise (either consciously or subconsciously). The end result of not doing that anymore, is that my focus is on development to increase my skills and my talents. The silence and sheer lack of social pressure (whether perceived or not) allows me to do that without fear, without time constraints. If I screw up, who cares? If I fall down, I get back up. If I do something amazing? I don’t have to show the “one awesome thing” right away. Instead, I’m going to work towards several awesome things. With the way my creative energy has exploded, I’m already well on my way to doing just that.