This past summer I had the great privilege of going on a pilgrimage for 15 days to Rome and Germany. This time spent away from the English speaking world truly proved to be a challenge. I was totally intrigued with the creative ways people communicated with me without speaking English, and my own ingenuity in getting along without speaking Italian or German. I have a newfound appreciation of the meaning of “home” and the term “mother tongue.”

While I was away, I was totally unconnected to my Blackberry, Twitter feed, and cellphone. I might have opted for international service, but I chose to remain unplugged so I could identify myself as a true pilgrim – a wanderer in search of a deeper reality.

I have to admit that it was really hard to push the off-switch on all my digital devices. But after the first couple of days of withdrawal, I didn’t horribly miss them. I found myself observing the unique colors of the houses, the textures of the marble and the awesome samples of flora and fauna. As a pilgrim I slowed down to a walk and reflected on the similarities and differences of the faces of the people and the sounds of strange languages. It was a time of reflection — and a surprising amount of new thinking.

Have we become less connected to ourselves?

Upon my return, I began the process of wading through piles of email that had to be answered and reading the most interesting looking twitter posts I’d missed. I came across a blog called Confessions of an Internet Superhero. The particular entry that intrigued me posed the following question: Are you more or less connected since you started spending so much time on the Internet?

The answer offered by this particular superhero was: “I’m more connected to people I don’t know. I’m equally connected to the people I do know. I’m less connected to myself.”

I was fascinated by his third observation. He explained this way:

… Most of the moments once reserved for a little alone time have been infiltrated by the realtime Internet. I never just wait for a bus, or just stand in line at a bank, or even just sit and think as I sit stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. At these moments, I pull my phone out of my pocket faster than a gunfighter pulls his weapon out of its holster.

The only time I really experience any self-reflection these days is when my computer sleeps and my screen goes dark.

And I’m not alone. According to Pew, 42% of cell owners used their phone for entertainment when they were bored. If those 42% of people are anything like me, that so-called boredom now arrives sooner than the random thoughts that can lead to self-reflection, creativity or just a few seconds of nothingness. I can draw my phone faster than my mind can wander.

As I reflected on this message, I remembered that Creativity is not to be confused with talent, skill, or intelligence. Creativity is not about doing something better than other — it is about thinking, exploring, discovering, and imagining. Creative thought is found in all aspects of a growing child’s life. Sir Ken Robinson in a Ted Talk describes the value of creativity in the 21st century this way: “Creativity is as important now as literacy. Treat it with the same status.”

Is there a connection between creativity, self-reflection and silence? I believe there is. Tony Cuckson’s article Enjoy The Silence: The 7 Powers of Silence states that creativity and silence go hand and hand. Silence allows the mind to quiet enough to make connections in ways that we’ve never made before (and perhaps that no one has made before). I know for me, those creative surges come when I sit long enough and I am quiet enough to perceive something out of the ordinary.

If creativity is such an important aspect of 21st century learning, then we as educators must teach our students how to be silent and still. Our students must learn to value the rewards of unplugging from the never-ending datastream and creating moments where we can listen to ourselves.

I challenge you to find some time in your schedule to teach your students the value of silence. And to practice what you teach!

Image: Creative Commons license

About the author
Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, is the Wide Area Network Coordinator for the Diocese of Harrisburg (PA). In her current position, she is responsible for Professional Development for teachers regarding “all things techy.” She has been a high school tech coordinator and graphics design teacher who's also taught middle grades math and science in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York City.