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Unplug and Create

Why it's necessary to step away from technological devices from time to time.

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January 21st, 2016. This is the first date I can recall actively leaving all of my technological devices off for an entire 24-hour period. The date stands out because it was my 22nd birthday … and the 1-year anniversary of my cousin’s death.

Having a family member pass away — suddenly, and at such a young age (30) — can be a shock. Having a family member pass away on your birthday … well, how do you handle something like that? (Why is there no manual for life?) I spent the first few years — the first few anniversaries — not celebrating myself. It was particularly important for me to not do anything celebratory that first year, because it was so late at night when he passed that I didn’t find out until the next morning. I wanted the first anniversary to be a day for people to acknowledge him, not me.

How do you explain this to 200 Facebook friends (most of whom didn’t know him personally)? “Please don’t write on my wall this year, I’m not celebrating myself.” (I guess I could’ve done that actually — I got smart the next year and just hid my birthdate, and the year after I made it so people couldn’t write on my wall.) To top it off, I was living in the same house as my Grandmother that year, who would’ve tried to make a big deal about everything, and I just was not in the mood to listen to her at that point. So, the only thing I could think to do was to lock myself in the master bedroom with some food, a couple books, and some paper and pencils. My laptop and my phone were turned off for the entire day (I think I warned a few family members the day before), and I spent the time being productive.

Of course, I shed quite a few tears for my cousin … but I knew I couldn’t uncontrollably sob all day. (Anyone else experience the aftermath of hours of uncontrollable sobs? Puffy aching eyes, massive headaches …) I also knew that he wouldn’t have wanted me to spend all day in mourning. So the majority of my day was spent trying to honour him, by using this distraction-free time to hone my craft (writing).

I’ll be honest and say I haven’t done this as often as I should, but in the past four years I have had a few more technology-free days, spending morning to evening with a book and journal. It wasn’t until this year though, through my journey to design a daily creative lifestyle, that I learned why these days are important.

According to Liz Dean, author of How to Be Creative: Rediscover Your Creativity and Live the Life You Truly Want, we need “mild, intermittent boredom” in order to be creative. “Boredom allows you to be yourself in a more relaxed, quietly creative mode. Reducing stimulus to our brain allows us to recharge.” In other words, stepping away from technology gives us to space to self-entertain, or to be mindful and aware of the world around us. (There is a four-page section of this book titled “The Art of (Good) Boredom”; this is just a sneak peek!)

I learned early on in my life how to amuse myself … or so I thought. I recognize now, as I’ve gotten older, that social media is not always a great form of entertainment, and really it’s not me amusing myself but rather me seeking out external distractions.

I do still have plenty of (technology-free) self-entertainment experience though — being on my own, alone with nothing but my thoughts, and not needing to rely on human contact to bring me excitement. The piece about boredom allowing you to be yourself completely resonates with me; some days, it only takes a minute of ennui before my mind starts to wander, or something catches my eye. The next thing I know, I’m hours into a new project, in the zone and (sometimes) forgetting to take food breaks. When I’m creating, I return to my child-like state, not caring about anything other than my project, and just simply happy with life.

By taking myself away from the laptop, shutting off my handheld devices, and ignoring the world around me, I create an atmosphere where I’m constantly asking myself “what’s next”. This is one of my favourite feelings in the world — it’s unknown, but it’s not a scary unknown. It’s mysterious, and exciting (once you get past the mild boredom), and I encourage everyone to try a 24-hour cleanse from technology, just once … just to see what happens, to see what creation can come about in a day.

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