Don’t turn the TV off

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Common advice among creative circles is that if you want to be more creative you need to turn off the TV.

Not only the TV, of course. You need to turn off your phone and computer too, step away from the digital world, spend more time being with yourself and your thoughts. Avoid the distractions that television and the Internet bring.

While there is certainly some truth to the notion that creativity can only come when we distance ourselves from distraction and allow ourselves to ruminate, we have to ask about what happens when we distance ourselves and realize we don’t have anything to inspire us or to really think about?

I often wonder where these people who tell us to disengage think the inspiration for ideas comes from exactly.

As Steven Johnson states in his book Where Good Ideas Come From:

“Good ideas are not conjured out of thin air; they are built out of a collection of existing parts, the composition of which expands (and, occasionally, contracts) over time.”

Ideas, particularly novel ones, are the result of our brains sorting through existing information put through the ringer.

The information we have to work creatively with is often brought to us by reading, watching television, browsing the web on our phone, having meaningful conversations, and playing video games. Then – only after we’ve absorbed enough to be meaningful in a context – we have to take time to ruminate, to let all of the input blend together like a soup, and experiment with all of the stuff our brains have soaked up.

The question then becomes not whether or not we should turn the TV off, but when to turn it off.

Photo by Anthony Kelly.