I have a magic button on my computer.
Push it, and ideas flow. It’s that simple. One little tap, and my daily word count climbs.
What is this button? It’s the anti-distraction button, my ‘Walden’ button, and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s the button that silences the world outside my screen, the one that isolates me from everything beyond my fictional world.
When it comes to writing, the issue, at least for me, is a matter of information. Not just information, but too much information, and too easily attained. Thanks to the internet, smart phones, satellite TV, DVRs and such, information is everywhere. Years ago, you could spend an evening out with friends, debating “What was that song Tom Petty sang, you know, with the Road Warrior style video?” Conversations would flow and grow from there. But try that now. I’ll venture you won’t make it more than two minutes into the discussion before someone whips out their smart phone and smugly replies the correct answer. Sometimes it’s even a race to see who can Google it first. The mystery, and the fun of arguing it into the night, are a thing of the past.
As I sit here in my favorite diner, in my favorite booth, the tiny one in the corner that has NO view of the thankfully silent, closed-caption TV perpetually looping the news. A quick glance around tells me, as usual, that a good fifty percent of the patrons are gazing down at their devices, rather than the people they’re with. True, I’m staring at this computer. I’m happy to say it recovered from its little tantrum the other day, but as I write this it’s not online. (I’ll go on to post this, then retreat again.) I’m not on Facebook, I’m not tweeting and I’m certainly not ignoring my companion, because my only companion at the moment is the laptop.
My point is this: information is everywhere. It’s invaded countless aspects of our lives. Based upon the commercials I see, most modern cars are as connected as your average teenager, and kitchen appliances boast more circuits and faster CPUs than the first lunar capsule. As a writer, that’s a wonderful thing — and an awful one. Trust me, I think it’s fantastic that I can sit in bed at eleven p.m., watching recorded episodes of Top Gear on my DVR while I research the most horrific and monstrous crimes imaginable. But that same limitless information can be as much a obstacle as it is an asset.
I’m not saying information is a bad thing, just like I’m not saying rum is a bad thing. Trust me on that one — I’d never say a good aged rum is a bad thing. But everything in moderation. A nice glass in the evening is lovely, but not if I want to hit my daily word-count goal.
We live in the information age, but honestly, how much of this information is truly useful? How does it advance us? Again, I look around the diner. The couple beside me are interacting, but only to update each other on the latest Hollywood gossip and who posted what on Facebook. While I may avoid those regions of the web, it’s a slippery slope from doing legit research to idle surfing. The thing about information is that it’s insidious. It nibbles away at our time relentlessly, slipping in as emails on our computers, alerts and texts on our phones, intriguing links on the footer of a page we’re viewing. A few minutes here, a few minutes there, and next thing you know, hours are gone.
I suspect Thoreau was onto something at Walden Pond. And while Walden might not be an option for me at the moment, with the exception of Evernote and Chrome, I’ve put my smartphone on a short leash, internet-wise. Oh, and as for that magic button on my computer? It’s the one that shuts down all data transmissions.
One tap, and my productivity skyrockets. It might not be Walden Pond, but at least it gets me off the information super-highway for a while.
Give it a try. Push that button. Disconnect for a while. Take that exit, and watch how the scenery changes.
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