In my last year at Emerson College I had a Media Ethics class with a professor named Tom Cooper. The kind of professor that makes those crazy tuition costs worth it. Among many other valuable things, he taught his students to be conscious of the amount of time we spend consuming media. He even encouraged his students to do a Media Fast – eliminate use of the Internet, TV, magazines, music, even books, from our lives. It wasn’t until I took him up on this challenge that I realized the overbearing and constant presence that media had on me.
A typical day prior to this fast went like this: I woke up and immediately turned on music, or a TV show while I got ready for school. I put my headphones in during my walk to the subway, and all the way through my commute until class started. After school, I watched Netflix for a few hours. When I exercised, I had music playing. In the shower, I had music playing. I would fall asleep to a television show.
And I wasn’t alone in this. This is what my generation does. In those couple of minutes before classes, no one really talks. They’re on Facebook, or texting friends. Instead of learning how to deal with awkward moments, we look at our smart phones.
This was horrible for my attention span, not great for my social skills, and absolutely MURDERED my creativity. I wasn’t giving myself any time to just think. Quietly. To sit and be alone with my thoughts, without distractions. I closed off every opportunity for inspiration. When I forced myself to sit in front of my computer and write, it was absolutely painful. It felt like I was punishing myself.
Screenwriter Jim Hart, came to my school and talked about how his best ideas come when he’s not at his desk – but rather when he’s scuba diving, or on the golf course. I heard other screenwriters and professors echo this sentiment, saying that they consistently figured out their stories in the shower. I couldn’t relate to this because there was no such thing as undistracted time in my life.
So, I did the Media Fast for about a week, and it was jarring. I became aware of my habits, and the habits of those around me. Instead of singing along to a song in the shower I just had to stand there. In SILENCE! AND THINK ABOUT STUFF!
I would often be the only person on the subway without headphones on, or not staring at their smart phone. Before class I would shock people by talking to them – they looked at me like I was a monster, it was great.
I started to notice things around me: snippets of people’s conversations, how they talked to their kids, to their spouses, I became fascinated with how people behaved in public. I found the inspiration I was missing, and ideas came quickly. Sitting down to write became rewarding. It felt good.
Obviously, I allowed media to reenter my life, but this time with a lot more awareness. Now, when I feel that a certain medium is becoming too much of a time waster or distraction, I’ll eliminate it completely to regain some perspective on it. I delete my facebook a few times a year for a couple of months to break the bad habit of checking it constantly – it’s an absolute necessity for me. Especially as a writer.