Dave. Stop. Will You?
by Ernie Schenck
2001: A Space Odyssey was one of those films that left you thinking for weeks after you walked out of the movie theater. The themes all appear so obvious now. But back then, well, I’ve got a feeling none of it was all that evident. What was the meaning of the black monolith? Why is Johann Strauss’s “Blue Danube” playing over the spaceship in earth’s orbit? And what’s with the LSD trip as Dave Bowman races into infinity and encounters the monolith?
Last summer, I read the book. And I watched the movie again for the umpteenth time. Yeah, I had it all figured out. Almost. Because there’s one message that Arthur Clarke and Stanley Kubrick gave to us in 2001, one that I never realized and I don’t think I could have until now. The consequences of giving our humanity over to technology. And the ultimate need for all of us, as Dave Bowman came to realize when he unplugged from HAL who came perilously close to killing the entire crew, to disconnect ourselves from technology and its awesome potential to drain us of our human mindfulness.
Advertising, at this moment, is at the beginning of a renaissance. The canvas that we find ourselves working on now is massive and quite possibly infinite in its scope. Make no mistake. None of this would be true without technology. It has opened doors the likes of which the Bernbachs and Ogilvys and Rineys and yes, even the McElligotts of the advertising world could never have seen coming, visionary though they all were.
Yet, there’s another edge to the technological sword. To ignore it would be folly at best and calamitous at worst. Because the very thing that’s fueling the creative renaissance also threatens to sink a dagger into its unsuspecting heart.
I could trot out all kinds of studies. I could cite enough sources to prove that what I’m about to tell you to make your eyes implode. I could do that, but do I really need to? If you think about it, nothing pollutes creativity like distractions. And technologically speaking, we've got more distractions than we know what to do with. Oh, it was always bad. The endless drone of one pointless meeting after another. The phone calls. The guy in the next cubicle who wanted to eat up half the morning blathering about his shoot in Prague.
But this is something different.
If you listen to Scott Belsky over at Behance, we just can’t seem to get enough of each other. “This desperate need for constant connection and stimulation is not a modern problem. I would argue that we have always sought a state of constant connection from the dawn of time, it’s just never been possible until now.”
If we’re not on Facebook, we’re on Twitter. Or Foursquare. Or Gowalla. Or MySpace (though I can’t for the life of me understand why). According to Nielsen, social media now accounts for 22.7 percent of the time we spend with other online distractions like gaming, which logs in at 10.2 percent, or e-mail or texting or, well, where do I stop really? There’s no question that our hunger for social connection is squeezing us for time, the undistracted time that creativity needs to work its magic.
So what’s to be done?
I don’t know that it has all the answers, but in my book, The Sabbath Project is on the right track. Unsurprisingly, it’s based on the idea of taking a day of rest, a day of disconnecting, of unplugging. Like the Project says, “The Sabbath Manifesto” was developed to fight back against our increasingly fast-paced way of living. The idea is to take time off, deadlines and paperwork be damned. In the Manifesto, we’ve adapted our ancestors’ rituals by carving out one day per week to unwind, unplug, relax, reflect, get outdoors, get with loved ones.”
Technology is liberating. If we’ve learned nothing in the last decade, we’ve learned that. What we have not learned is when to say yes to technology and when to say no to it. There’s a reason social media has become so ingrained in us. We all want to feel connected. But it’s disrupting, and somewhere in our brains there’s a square inch or two of gray matter, the inch or two with only one function: to create great ideas. And, man, it really hates being disrupted. In the end, like Dave Bowman, we need to make a choice. We can give ourselves over to technology. Or we can unplug. If only for a day or two here, a few hours there. I think even HAL would approve.
Will you? CA