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Thursday, November 29th, 2012 | Written by:

Unplugging is the New Way to Think Outside the Box


In a career that demands staying ahead of the cultural curve, the Internet is vital to success for designers, both as a resource and a platform. Many of us are digital artists who use computer programs as a medium, which means even if we aren’t plugged into the Internet, we still spend hours each day in front of a screen.

Computers and the Internet play enormous roles in the modern creative process, but what many creative professionals have begun to question is whether we are placing too much emphasis on our screen time.

Over the years, the Internet community has created a shift in society’s standard conventions; and the old hackneyed phrase, “thinking outside the box” is taking on a fresh meaning. With 2.5 billion users, the web has grown into a source of the obscure, the informative, and the entertaining. And in the wake of viral YouTube videos, blogs and social media, individuals have more power to create and share than ever before.

However, after years of increased immersion, we all feel, on some level, the need to escape from the information overload and constant communication demanded by these new social norms. And though this “box” has come to represent a cliché, today it is an apt description of the screens of our mobile devices, laptops and television screens.

Are you sick of hearing the term “unplug”?

Much like “thinking outside the box”, the term “unplug” has been drained of its meaning. The cliché is too vague to be taken as real advice, but also so universally true that we all know we could benefit from doing so. What most creative professionals seek, isn’t to avoid technology, but to obtain solitude.

While we could say that technology is a distraction from solitude, the truth is that solitude has always been, and will always be, something that must be sought. It is rather convenient to blame technology, but we must remember that we created these devices. It is our responsibility to define the boundaries of effective usage.

Do you remember the last time you worked in solitude?

Many of us have grown estranged from solitude, and it can be difficult to readjust to a slower, more concentrated pace of thought. There is the feeling that you might “miss” something, and there are also social repercussions of not being immediately and constantly available. (My friends get frustrated with my belated text messages.) But at the other end of this anxiety is a quiet freedom from other people’s influences. Here, we can begin thinking for ourselves. We can begin thinking outside of the box.

For the creative professional, an occasional Internet holiday or weekend without our cell phone may not be enough. If we consider solitude to be an essential ingredient of creativity, then we begin to see the importance of integrating downtime into our workday. It is our job to creatively synthesize our thoughts and impressions; but to effectively do this, we must first be able to collect our thoughts.

Are you ready to obtain solitude?

For artists, doodling may be the key to obtaining solitude. In 2009, a study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology found that doodlers actually retain more information than non-doodlers. Participants were challenged to retain monotonous and dull information and were given a sheet of paper on which to take notes. The study found that doodlers were more cognitively engaged, even though they were pursuing a seemingly mindless action.

So how does this relate to solitude?

Doodling allows people to process and refine information through an indirect and freeform manner. As an art form, it forces us to operate within a higher margin for error than when working with digital or professional tools. It also allows us to share our personal style and subconscious impulses. Doodling simultaneously clears the mind and requires a high level of concentration, making it ideal for transitioning the brain into a slower, more focused mode of thought.

For the artist, the importance of a notebook, or a sketchbook, cannot be understated. It is a fundamental outlet for breaking away from the world to make mistakes, to record thoughts and to simply let creativity flow freely. It also allows you to spend time making a physical mark on the world, something that digital software will never be able to replicate.

How do you obtain solitude in your daily life?

Deep thinking, personal introspection or synthesizing large amounts of information all require intense focus. The problem is that many people don’t realize their lives are lacking solitude until intellectual, personal or creative demands push people to their limits. To avoid information overloads and to balance stress, it is important to carve out a space for solitude in everyday life.

I’m interested to know what other creative professionals are doing to obtain solitude. Do you have a special software application that blocks your favorite Internet sites? Do you take weekend retreats? Have you ever deleted your Facebook account?

More importantly, what’s worked for you? How has solitude influenced your creativity?

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About Rachel Sanders

Rachel Sanders is a graphic design lover and artist who writes for You can reach Rachel by leaving a comment below!

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