Busy doing something close to nothing

October 19th, 2014

The ever growing mountain of information available to us is a good thing. So is the ease with which we are able to access that information using our newfangled gadgets and technologies. How we sort our way through the putrid filth to get to the good stuff and then process it will of course vary wildly, but it’s there, ready to be scrutinized.

The problem, at least for me, came with the difficulty in doing any one thing without combining it with the consumption of some form of product or service. When I’d go for a walk set to last longer than ten minutes, I’d bring my headphones to listen to music or podcasts. Music would also usually accompany me as I cooked, and when I sat down for the meal I would within moments instinctively grab for my iPad. Upon finishing one book I’d hastily get started on the next or take another crack at emptying my Instapaper queue, which never actually seemed to be getting any shorter.

This isn’t about whether busting a gut to a scathing profanity-laden tirade by the Angry Video Game Nerd is a better or worse use of my time than gaining a broader knowledge of investing and staying up-to-date on current events by reading the business section of various daily papers. The issue is that while a deluge of entertaining, spirit-raising, educational, inspiring, horizon-broadening knowledge was going in, not enough seemed to be coming out of it.

I once mentioned my penchant for constant consumption to a friend and was immediately chastised for not taking time out to just sit and stare at the blankness of space. I didn’t give his words further thought at the time - I had books to read! - and it’s only these past few months, during which I’ve been out of a job and have had plenty of time to delve deeper into any subject that might tickle my fancy, that I’ve come to realize the importance of occasionally doing absolutely nothing.

There’s no need to justify my voracious appetite for content by saying "it's not like I'm just sitting around doing nothing," when that is precisely what I should be doing. It’s as simple as leaning back in a chair with everything but a cup of tea out of reach and waiting for the mind to wander. Of course, while sitting in idleness my brain is actually very active indeed. By delaying the flow of content, sitting peacefully and giving my brain time to process what it has absorbed becomes just as productive and conducive to creative thought. Surely even more so.

Writing is another way to get something out of the things I put in there. Scribbling down notes while reading a book and fashioning them into a review post on this blog forces me to wrap my mind around what I’ve read, ending up with something that forms some sort of narrative instead of an incoherent garbled mess in my mind.