April 02, 2017
“An artist must have downtime, time to do nothing.” — Julia Cameron
A few months back, I was talking to a friend who confided that he filled all of the gaps in his day by reading the news on his phone or listening to a podcast. We talked about why he did that and what value it brought him - but we explored the topic by looking at what he was reading / listening to and not why he felt like he needed to be reading / listening all of the time.
Because of my experiences with a week of media deprivation, if we were to have that conversation again, I expect that I would spend more time asking about the why.¹ What is the goal or purpose of always reading? When I’ve asked myself that in the past, I’ve come away with some answers around learning new things and exposing myself to ideas of others. When I stopped letting other people’s ideas bombard me, the effect was as if I turned up the volume of my internal voice. It’s not that the voice hadn’t been present before, but it appears as if those other voices had been drowning it out.
The problem, of course, is that in order to learn, we need to be able to synthesize concepts. Synthesizing requires time and space and if those aren’t present - either because we are over scheduled or because we’re constantly adding new ideas to the funnel - then learning becomes much more difficult, if not impossible.
I quipped to a friend that last year was the ‘Year of the Book’ and this one would be the ‘Year of Engagement.’ The idea came from an intuitive understanding of what this week has proven to me: That while I had exposed myself to hundreds of new ideas last year, I hadn’t really learned many of them because I simply kept adding new ones to the pile.
The media diet is ending today and with it my more global ban on other’s voices. I started the diet with trepidation and unsure of what to expect. The results, however, have been reassuring. The deprivation reminded me that if I create the space to think, I can get the engagement I’m seeking, refine my understanding of other’s ideas, and, most importantly, create my own.
Bill Gates has reading weeks when he escapes to engage with new ideas en masse. I love that idea and plan to adopt it myself, however, I would argue that it should be coupled with a week of idea deprivation to allow those new thoughts to settle.
¹ In this context, I will use media to refer to music, books, articles, television and anything else which would contain ideas created, curated, developed by someone else. I will also use the action of reading or listening to refer to the whole suite of activities related to engaging with the various forms of media.
Written by Stephen Weiss who lives in Chicago with his wife, Kate, and dog, Finn. Follow him on Twitter!