I love the internet. I really do. It makes it possible for me to work and keep in touch with people I’ve met all across the country. I can follow their adventures as they tweet and post their way around the world, and I can find out what they’re going to be doing next and where we might meet up again. I can ask questions of my editors and get immediate answers, something that wasn’t possible when we had to rely on phones to communicate. I can see photographs of works in progress, and I can discover people doing cool things that I never would have found if they hadn’t had a blog that I happened to stumble across or that someone I’ve never met thought was so cool that they sent me to it via a link. I can do this 24 hours a day, weekends and holidays, and there’s always something new and fascinating and inspiring and, oh, my.
There’s always something.
Sometimes you just feel the overwhelming need to switch it all off, to pull back, to focus on yourself and your work and what you want to accomplish rather than the wider, noisier, livelier virtual world that most of us inhabit for at least part of every day, a world where our ever utterance has to be vetted and edited and where we never know what’s ours and what belongs to someone else or to the wider community. We’ve talked at length about making connections and getting your work out there, about adopting and adapting to social media and creating a community. But there’s a flip side to that, one that seems to be increasingly forgotten amidst the whirl of everyone else’s tweets and posts and updates.
It’s the world of work. Of focus. Of solitary, intense, quiet where you can follow the wisp of an idea without distraction, where what matters is what comes to life through your brain and eyes and hands, not what some famous someone 1500 miles away had for lunch today. Because there’s so much going on all the time and because technology has made so much of it immediately available to us, it’s become more and more difficult for many of us to slow down, pull back, and focus on our work. We might miss something–an opportunity, inspiration, an invitation, gossip, news, disaster, financial catastrophe. How can we not pay attention?
Those who argue for the need to stay plugged in and connected will tell you that the world is moving at lightning speed and that those who don’t keep up with be left behind (duh), and that it behooves us all to keep track of as much as we can. For artists, that means keeping track not only of the news but also of the lives and work of other artists, especially those in our field. If we want to keep up, compete, take part–we have to stay on top of it all.
But those who sometimes choose another way–those who choose to switch it off now and then, to step back into the studio and close the door on the noise and excitement and whirl of activity and information and exchange of ideas–they might, if they were inclined to stop working and talk about the topic, they might argue that art needs our full attention. We can’t make our ideas concrete if we have one foot in the studio and the other out in the wider world, tuning in to streaming news and noise and other people’s ideas. Art–and any other true work–deserves our complete and undivided attention, whether for hours or days.
Of course I’m not advocating a complete switching off–you notice I didn’t say “for weeks or years.” You really do need to stay in touch, have A Presence, get your stuff out there (if that’s your goal). But you need balance, and sometimes the only way to achieve that is to step back and turn inward to the place where your ideas take root.
Ricë also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.
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