Singing the Digital Blues

Singing the Digital Blues

Singing the Digital Blues

The polar opposite of creativity is digital passivity.

After years of daily digitals, and a lifetime of bowing to the venerable “newspaper of record,” I just cancelled my subscription to the New York Times.  Wait: before you click yourself away, please note that I’m not going to grieve over the decline of objective reporting.  Promise.  That’s a whole other rodeo.  I will only describe the exact moment that drove me away, to help me make a point. 

That particular eureka came last week, when yet another “News Alert” landed in my inbox.  For years these alarms had been coming faster and furiouser while getting less and less crucial at the same time.  But this latest “News Alert” really snapped me awake: it was a teasing link to a feature article about the Kardashians.  No world events, surprises or disasters to announce—just click bait, disguised as news.  Wow.

Then today, on my last day as a subscriber, I felt like saying a ritual farewell to my old pal, the New York Times front page.  That’s when I saw the latest breathless testimonial about what life can be like when you unplug from your various devices, and see what’s left.

Curiously, these testimonials seem to be proliferating just as anxiety and addiction rates are soaring (get me OUTTA THIS!?).  But they don’t require the unpluggery to be permanent; it’s more of a hip lifestyle experiment in which writers rhapsodize about having face-to-face conversation with actual people, instead of making continuous love to a screen.  

The authors may not be old enough to remember the wheel the first time around.  But that’s okay.  They found it.

Yet what does all this have to do with creativity, you may ask?  A reasonable question, considering that you’re reading this column on the Creativity Post.  Well, here it comes.  I believe that the polar opposite of creativity is digital passivity, or the wholesale surrender of human function and choice to the latest glittery app, and all in the name of “convenience.”

And who doesn’t want convenience?  Yes, it can be onerous to turn on one’s own lights and choose one’s own music.  But even if the ultimate goal is sinister—like, say, turning everyone into the perfect little consumer—the whole thing is so entangled with status concerns that few folks will notice (or care) how much they’re being played. 

Meanwhile, all this passive surrendering invites externally-generated chatter into every corner of a life.  And as silence has moved beyond rare to anathema, stillness and patience are also discouraged.  After all, it’s simpler to click away when your interest begins to flag—no need to think any harder or deeper than that.

In such a universe, the mother of all horrors would be boredom.  What—nothing to watch or listen to?  No friends to follow or lead?  No computer animations or enhancements to jazz things up? 

Well, um, yes. 

In fact, it may be that these dreaded moments of boredom help prepare the ground for creativity.  Perhaps it comes more readily to the idle mind, the blank slate.  That’s often when the thought that’s been simmering can finally leap up and be seen—the story hook, the design idea, the solution to that nagging personal problem.  

There might even be something new and exciting there, in one’s very own head, without having to plug anything in.  If boredom begets creativity, it should be more welcome than feared.  At least, let it be.

And then watch what happens.

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