Space to wander

I live my life surrounded by tech. It is all around me all the time. Usually I have at least one techy gadget around me, be it the iPad, iPhone, a laptop, or when watching movies the mac mini that we use to stream. But lately, I have felt a need to walk away from all that tech. I want to be alone with my thoughts.

I am still working through this, but when I take a walk, when I go out to eat, when I want to focus on a book, I leave the connected devices behind. More and more I am leaving my home without my iPhone. For many in my industry that last sentence is probably sacrireligious. How could I not want a computer in my pocket at all times? But lately, I just don’t.

As I begin to work through what is driving this in me, I realize a lot of it is that when I am forced to just wait quietly, patiently in a line without something to distract me, that is when an idea hits me. When I give my brain the time and space to wander, ideas percolate. Sometimes they are very vague and I can’t even put my finger on what they are, but other times I am pulling out a pen and paper (yes, old school, I know) to write down a tidbit of thought that I may or may not come back to later.

The other part of this drive is me wondering what it is like to not be connected all the time. Why are we in an age where connection is considered the end-all and be-all? What happens when we allow ourselves space. Do we stumble on things? Do we put together two ideas that we have seen to form something new?

When I was in art school, I did a lot of sketching, a lot of experimenting, a lot of just looking at the work of other artists and letting it sink in. Then I tried to make something of my own. I combined all those thoughts into my own thing, my own piece. Do we do that any more? Do we take the space?

I ask this because I think that coding is creative at its core. It is trying to solve a problem in a new way, a creative way, a way that is elegant and gets the job done. I realize that this can’t always be the case, but I also realize that for this to happen at all, space needs to happen. When that crazy, knotty problem comes up, I often walk. I walk with no devices and just my thoughts. Or I make pizza dough (true story) and while I knead the dough, I am able to think in a different way. Or I just write, sketch, think. It all helps to connect dots in new ways.

Quite a while ago I read Steven Johnson’s book, Where Good Ideas Come From. It is a great look at how disparate pieces of information are often what comes together to help someone create something new. It often means that you take time away from the pursuit of the idea and then it will hit you. I highly recommend reading it, as the look at how things like Evolution were discovered is fascinating. But above all, for me, it points out that having quiet time, which so many great thinkers of the past had, is a big factor in the puzzle of coming up with something new.

So with that book in the back of my mind, and my mind longing to wander away from the tech world of so many inputs, I have begun a journey to figure out the right balance for me between input and space. So lately, it seems I crave the space. This has come up over the past years as I take up new hobbies that are radically different than my day job. I am now a yogi, I am baking, which requires simple ingredients and my hands, I find more reasons to be in the garden, getting dirty. All of this is so my mind can do other things. So when I wander, the inputs are different and possibly new ideas can be formed. Or maybe just old ones improved.