September 24, 2012

Busy Brains?

Recently one of my students discussed how he forgets to just stop and take in his surroundings, particularly referencing appreciating Nature. He said that he was so busy trying to keep his brain entertained and occupied that he forgot he can do this simply by observing the world around him. Of course, his thoughts got me thinking, too. What I found is that I agreed with him.

We are so focused on having busy brains that we do not even realize that’s what we’re doing. I mean, think about it. We have iPads, iPods, Pandora, satellite radio, and we cannot forget cell phones, which can provide so many different types of distractions. A cell phone now can provide  videos, movies, radios, games, books, reference books, calculators, planners, to-do lists, notes, and oh so much more. We can constantly keep our brains busy with one little device. It’s both incredibly helpful and also a bit troubling.

If we have these devices that keep us in constant contact with the world, that make us available to work  at all times, that distract us from real social interaction, how can we possibly have time to slow down and enjoy the scenery? As my student noted, he was not doing that. He was not enjoying the scenery or appreciating Nature; he was simply trying to keep his brain occupied with Pandora or talk radio or phone calls or whatever.

This made me think about how this constant need for brain entertainment affects relationships, and if it affects us individually, no doubt it also affects us interpersonally. If we can be contacted by work at any moment via our phones (calling, email, text, you name it), then is there a possibility that we have a hard time disconnecting from work period? I mean, just this morning, like every morning, I woke up and checked my email…my work email. It’s a Sunday, and I’m a college professor. What can’t wait until Monday? The answer is nothing.

Yet instead of staying in bed and enjoying the morning, I woke up thinking about work. The truth is all this wonderful technology, which we all love, may be distracting us from just relaxing. We know that simply talking on a cell phone distracts us from driving, but what about from having strong relationships? If we are constantly checking our phones for games or email or Facebook or whatever, then we are not connecting with those we love in person.

I am no saint in this nor am I trying to scold others without taking the responsibility of my own actions. I am just as guilty of occupying my brain with technology. In fact, I’m doing it right now.

I’m also not suggesting that we should get rid of cell phones and iPads and iPods and laptops and whatever else. I’m a fan of each of these devices. I use each one regularly. I appreciate their convenience and helpfulness in my life. What I am advocating, though, is to take a break from trying to entertain our brains with these devices all of the time. Silence is golden, as the saying goes, and allows us to see, really see, Nature. If we unplug, we can also work on connecting with our loved ones. We have eight hours a day, on average, for work and about that same amount for sleep. That means we should use the other eight hours or so to observe the world around us, to be an active participant in our relationships, and to be affected by the beauty and destruction of our surroundings. All of these prompt thoughts and brain activity, too. We just have to remind ourselves to take a break. I think I’ll do that right now.

Image Credit: Tom Wang / Shutterstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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