Friday, November 16, 2018

Digital Distraction Is Bad for Creativity

From The Walrus:
Writers and artists, most of them introverts, have traditionally been able to find the solitude in which to work because as introverts they craved and welcomed solitude; they could only endure a certain amount of time in company. Now, social media and the internet offer the introvert a poisonous compromise: you can be alone in your room and at the same time connected to others, if more or less on your own terms. Alone, yet not alone.

But for an artist, this paradox is problematic because there can be no compromises in creative solitude. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying that you can only write well when no one else is in the house, as has been true, reportedly, for Alice Munro. I’m saying that the particular nature of digital distraction is creatively injurious. I used to find the sounds of my then-small daughter and her friends playing in the house while I was writing—and occasionally barging in to show me something or ask for something—to be, on balance, creatively helpful. I felt less lonely and at the same time more focused on getting the work done, published, and paid for; that unsilent presence was a reminder of one key reason I was doing the work and whom I was doing it for. But the knowledge that emails are steadily pinging into my inbox nudges me out of the task—out of the dreamtime of deep creativity—in a different and damaging way.

The organizer brought two more fans out to meet Robert Kroetsch. I figured it had to happen. The sun by now was just a few fingers above the ridgeline. I’d been willing it to stay and to slip no lower—as if to suspend the moment, along with the sun, in exactly the way that time never permits. I said goodbye and returned, happily enough after all, to the clubhouse for another beer, dinner, and dozens of conversations, some engrossing, some gratifying, some confusing or simply dull. The usual social range.

I realize that Robert Kroetsch kept his silence partly out of fatigue, but I also choose to believe that he’d reached an enviable stage where he felt less of a need to talk, and to write: to explain himself to the world and the world to himself. He was in his eighties, had published some thirty books, had done his life’s work—an honourable life’s work by any standard. How enviable, finally, to surmount the need to represent yourself to others, to wonder if they secretly feel you don’t measure up or don’t deserve whatever you have. The same things we all wonder. Maybe he, too, still wondered those things. How can I know? (Read more.)

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