“Sensory overload.” We’ve all heard that phrase. It has become a cliched part of our vernacular. For instance, when deadlines and activities at work start to make us feel frazzled, we tell our colleagues, half-jokingly, “I can’t hang in. I’m on sensory overload here.”
The phenomenon is being studied by the experts and every day, it seems, there is another news story about the impact that technology and all of the communicative devices we use every day are having upon us. We are all connected to each other perpetually through our cell phones, blackberries, computers, etc. But are we really connecting with other human beings in a meaningful fashion or just superficially? That’s a question for the sociologists to answer in years to come.
For me, the question has become, am I really connected with my internal self? Some days the honest answer is “no.”
So this past week, feeling a big case of sensory overload which was, I’m sure, inspired in part by the stomach flu that slowed me down considerably for five days, I did something I haven’t done in ages. I actually got out a pad of paper and a pen. Remember those items?
As I sat at my desk holding one of my favorite gel pens and looking at the blank sheet of paper, I thought to myself, “Wow, how long has it been since I have done this?” And I realized that I couldn’t remember.
Some of you may be laughing. But the truth is that, since getting a laptop computer, I haven’t used pen and paper in any form other than to write a sticky note, check or greeting card. All of the writing that I have done in recent years has been using a computer, including taking notes in meetings. My neighbors and I even exchange e-mails because, given our hectic schedules, we rarely see each other in person other than when one or both of us is pulling into or backing out of their garage and we wave at each other.
Normally, I sit down at my desk and my hands immediately get into position on the keyboard or mouse. And then my eyes start taking in all of the information splashed across the screen. If you are like me, you probably have a zillion windows open all at the same time. These days, the idea of having just one website open at a time is laughable since every browser has the ability to open tabs. If you’re like me, you most likely have at least a dozen open at any given moment. Sometimes, I open them and by the time I get around to actually clicking on the tab, I can’t remember where I found the link to that site or why I wanted to view it. (Senior moments . . . sigh.)
So as I looked at the pad of paper and ran my hands over the blank page, it was rather like seeing a long lost friend that I had forgotten about until running into him on the street. And as I sat there working, taking notes, jotting down ideas, formulating sentences with pen in hand, the muscle movements buried somewhere in the recesses of my brain became familiar again.
It took a few minutes, but I got back into the groove of working this way and found it surprisingly refreshing. The thing I noticed most is that I was intently focused on what I was writing because I was not distracted by e-mail notifications or a graphic in a browser tab or on a website page reminding me to do something else. I did not experience any sensory overload for the significant period of time that I spent working in this way. Mercifully, the phone did not ring and I turned off the sound on my computer so I wouldn’t know that e-mails were coming in.
It was an extremely productive exercise and it reminded me that for writers, sometimes the best thing we can do is the simplest: Disconnect and go back to the basics.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, unable to focus because of all the information being continuously lobbed at you or just plain fed up by all of the technology vying for your attention, give the most simple and inexpensive cure a try: Turn all of those devices off for a bit, including the phone (if you can), and just sit down with a blank page and your favorite pen.
I think you might be pleasantly surprised, as I was, at how quickly and delightfully your psyche recalls the way life used to be before we all became slaves to the technology available to us. Your creative energy may be renewed using this technique, thereby informing and inspiring your writing. You may be stunned by your own creative, critical or analytical thinking.
sure to leave a comment and let us know what techniques work best for you!