Tuesday, 8 March 2016

How to survive the death of creativity

I saw the saddest thing recently when we were having dinner in a beautiful restaurant. And really, it was beautiful; the food was exquisite, the wine a divine nectar, the conversation lively, the service impeccable.... I could go on. The point is, it was not a sandwich bar and our experience came at a price, but for something that a month later I’m still thinking about, it was worth it. At the table next to us sat a family who were travelling together. They’d chosen to come to New Zealand and share the experience of the quaint, historic harbour town of Akaroa with one another, so they must have been important. There were four adults and one small child. The four adults were taking photos of their food and posting it on the internet and then scrolling through photos of other people's food. The child was watching something on the iPad, presumably to prevent it from actually engaging with anyone. Just as well too, because otherwise it might have interrupted the screen scrolling of the adults. They were slumped back in their chairs like they might slump at home on the sofa, no one was talking, (unless you count the interactions on social media with people who were not actually at the table.) They were disengaged, disinterested and distant. Their active screens were doing a wonderful job of diverting them from what otherwise might have been a comprehensive, memorable sensory encounter.

Those infernal screens that have infiltrated our lives, with their mobile convenience so that we might have available to us, at any moment of the day, in any place, all of the information portals that we believe we are incapable of living without. But at some point we really need to draw the line.

How often I find myself looking at a screen. Whether it is the television, my iPhone or iPad; something is always close at hand. I’ve become more aware (though admittedly, not necessarily finding solutions for this) of just how often I’m scanning my apps and notifications for anything I might have missed. For that life altering red blob - could this be the notification that changes everything?? Surely, if it were really vital, I’d know about it. How did we even survive the days of dial up? The tense, excruciating moments - minutes actually - as the Hotmail account reluctantly loaded. What news of my immediate circle would I discover?? You never know what might have taken place between leaving school for the day and arriving home...

It seems that smartphone addiction is not only common place, but an acceptable explanation for our overuse of our devices. It has been reported that some people have likened losing their smartphone to losing a limb. I mean, please. But even though I can see the insanity of the breathless spin one enters on the temporary misplacement of one’s device, I’m absolutely not immune. So reliant we are on these damned screens that as they are luring our attention away with their pings, bleeps and whistles, their alluring bright lights and their tingling vibrations; we’re failing to notice the systematic slaughtering of life’s true magic. I’m talking about spontaneity, conversation, interacting with our children, romance, inspiration, the basic art of eye contact and, crucially for my profession, creativity.

Our brains are slouching back on the sofa every time we lock onto that screen. I’m sure there is a plethora of scientific evidence to back this up, but I’m not a scientist and you may google on your own time. What I’ve noticed is, that creativity, new ideas, solutions to problems and inspiration hits me at times when I cannot possibly use a screen. How often do you find that you have these moments of epiphany when you are driving your car, having a shower, going for a walk, doing the dishes, eating a messy sandwich, even reading text from paper? These times are when the magic happens - away from our screens.

Sure, it is an occupational hazard that screens are a necessary part of life for me, but I’d rather hit the keyboard with guns blazing with a head full of sprouting ideas because I’ve had enough time away from screens to allow creativity to happen. It is time to take back control before creativity, in its already endangered state, becomes extinct.

Allow your brain to do its work without constantly subduing it, just like a bum, it needs to get up of the sofa and do some exercise. Let us not accept a wobbly bottom in our brains, or worse, role model this slovenly psychology to our children.