I was trying to think of something to write for a blog post, but nothing was coming to me. So I tried something profound, an ancient method once known to help generate ideas. I was still and silent. I did nothing but think.
I’m a little late on most technology. I got a cellphone a few years after everybody my age already had one. I just got a smartphone in December. I have had an iPad for about a year and a Kindle for about two, but even these were a little behind the times. And they were gifts. I also watch a little television (especially during NBA season, and I love Big Bang Theory), and I watch a lot of movies. When I’m driving, I listen to music or NPR. When I’m doing anything—laundry, cooking, playing with my son … anything—it’s rare that there’s not some sound, like music or the TV. And I’m old compared with students, who live in this weird young-adult place that is some sort of amalgamation of face-to-face interactions and an online world of which I understand only the surface.
When I taught at James Madison University, I heard about another professor’s assignment that makes students go without technology for a few days. It has become a legendary assignment on that campus. “I hear you can’t even use the land-line telephone.” “Microwaves are off limits.” “My friend said you can’t use indoor plumbing.” I’m sure it’s not that extreme. As I get older and busier, valuing time more and more, I appreciate the idea behind this assignment. I appreciate time to think without distractions, even if it is an afterthought sometimes.
In a video I’ve referenced before, John Cleese talks about the need for a space-time oasis in order to be creative. If thinking time, an oasis of space and time, is hard to come by for me, someone whose generation doesn’t demand quite the connectivity as that of my students, then I can only imagine how difficult it must be for them to turn distractions off and just think, and how important it must be.