Let’s switch off and reboot

Alexander Graham Bell might have patented the first telephone but he wouldn’t have one around when he needed to think. The Scottish engineer apparently refused to have one in his study because “that was where he went when he wanted to be alone with his thoughts and his work,” according to his wife. “The telephone, of course, means intrusion by the outside world.”

Perhaps Bell had an inkling of what he’d unleashed. There are now more than 1.2 billion mobile web users worldwide, using phones to tap into yet another phenomenon, ubiquitous social media networks that soak up staggering amounts of time and creative energy. This 24/7 information tsunami has left many people feeling burned-out and overloaded, yet unable to switch off for even a moment, either at work or at home. “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness,” says Tim Kreider, the author of We Learn Nothing. “Obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”

Technology designed to liberate us has instead imprisoned us within a humming web of hyperconnections. “The creative pause allows the space for your mind to drift, to imagine and to shift, opening it up to new ways of seeing,” according to influential thinker and author, Martin Lindstrom. “

There’s just one small problem: The creative pause might soon become a thing of the past. When was the last time you remember being bored? Or even having a moment free from distractions?”

This surfeit of data has given rise to a new skill: information curation. Others take a leaf from Alexander Graham Bell’s book and deliberately carve out quiet time. “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice,” Kreider says. “It is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body … The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration.”

For his part, Lindstrom tries to stick to his daily swim, and not just for the physical exercise. “As I power up and down the lanes, I rethink what I’ve learned,” he says. “I now have the time and space to solve whatever problems have arisen. It’s an important meeting with myself, and I keep it religiously. Because the day I lose it, I’ve lost myself.”

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