Tuesday, June 13, 2017

On Social Me(dia)

For many of us, various social media outlets in addition to browsing the internet leads to a set of habits that could in some ways undermine our productivity and ability to concentrate. Earlier this year, I deactivated a few of my favorite online haunts in order to gain some perspective on how these social networking tools have devolved over many years into a net negative.

I spend a lot of time on computers. As an educator, illustrator, graphic designer, shopper and fan of streaming entertainment, I am online for so many things. With this came a loss of so much of the creative drive and productivity that came with being "unplugged" before the internet really took off during the 90s.

As a child in the mid-80s, Sundays were the worst for TV watching. Sure, there was Hee Haw, The Muppet Show, Pink Panther and Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, my only other outlet was in entertaining myself. Old toys would lose their play value. My handful of board games were of little use when I was alone and I could only play so many games of Armor.. Attack on my Vectrex before losing interest. And then there was homework, which also bored me, so I avoided it until a few hours before bedtime when I absolutely had to do it. Those were the times when I often turned to daydreaming and invention in order to disperse the stale and lingering pall of Sunday boredom. This included building plastic model kits, drawing, playing outside, or running around the house with taking toys on new adventures or pretending to be a space-faring superhero. My mind was a phenomenal newsfeed and I could almost dream with my eyes open.

Without the noise and distraction of the television, my mind ran under its own endless supply of creativity. I had plenty of books around me with pictures. I loved looking at illustrations in our World Book enclyclopedia and the occasional Time-Life books my mom generously payed for every month or so. Had I been an avid reader, I would be well-versed on zoology (Wild, Wild World of Animals)  thehistory of aviation (The Epic of Flight) legends and folklore (Enchanted Worlds). And while reading was often a struggle, the impulse to create always came without fear or hesitation.


 A Dearth of Quiet Spaces

As a child, those quiet stints of boredom were tremendous luxury. As an adult, I struggle to find  similar pockets of time and space. At home for example, loud voices, loud televisions, barking dogs, loud car and motorcycle engines, fireworks, crows, phone ringers and other distractions repeatedly jerk my attention away from whatever I am doing. The background noise of a talk radio station or a familiar playlist will at times help me to tune out the noise, but it's not nearly as good complete silence.

Sometimes, I recall how during a summer of deep depression and unemployment, I took to sleeping all day and staying up all night, usually drawing and painting with the radio on a local late night talk show. As long a I could stand the cold and hunger that naturally comes during those odd hours, a lot of work got done, adding just a glimmer of joy to an otherwise unhappy and disappointing life. The dark and slumbering world outside was quiet but for the soft whisper of distant highway or a jetliner cruising high above the city.

Cafés can also be a challenge. My excursions in search of a place to sit and work routinely make me regret the effort. Groups speak loudly, cell phones blast videos shared between friends, noise from grinders, steamers, barristas and whatever music they play in the space all create a similarly distracting collection of noise. Add to this the fumes from brewing and grinding coffee and I wonder if I was better off staying home. I even tried renting space at a co-working spot, but the same problems persisted. Earbuds and earplugs definitely help, but again, silence would be ideal.

Then there are the local public libraries. Like the cafés, the strong odor from aging structures, restroom "air fresheners" and other patrons can be a distraction. There are quiet spaces in some libraries, and electricity for plugging in a laptop. However, I have noticed that the library staff speak loudly to each other, patrons and on the telephone. Newer libraries have a problem with stagnant air resulting from new environmental standards that ironically place energy conservation over human health and comfort.

This leaves the great outdoors or the passenger seat of a car for that quiet time. I've tried local parks, but dog owners let their pets run over, slobber, pee and shit nearby. Young men and teens smoking weed in parks and other public spaces with more frequency than ever. Sun, wind and bugs are tolerable to an extent, but I have my limits.


Using Idle Time to Draw

I keep a small sketchbook and my favorite tools close at hand wherever I go. As a digital artist, scanning and waiting for slow downloads are examples of times when the I need to do something with my hands and my mind. These brief moments may last only a few minutes, allowing just enough time to flesh out an idea or refine one from earlier in the day or even a week ago. My sketchbook continues to be a perpetual staging area where new ideas start, stall and eventually find their way to completion. Wait and travel time on public transit also lets me add to my sketchbook. By weaning myself from social media and browsing the internet on my smartphone, that old satisfying habit of creation and play returned on its own. My skills have improved considerably as have my aesthetics, but I now see while that lifelong impulse to create remains integral to who I am it is also highly vulnerable to distractions from others. Ultimately, this is much less about isolation from others and more about the strict prioritization of creative time and everything (and everyone) else.

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