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 â€” 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 â€” 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
Sr Geralyn Schmidt
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I have been focusing a lot on the value of wait time in the classroom to help foster awareness of inner voice (metacognition) and support critical thinking as well. In an increasingly “info-whelmed” world I personally believe it is absolutely critical that teachers not only model, but embed wait-time into their classrooms to prepare students who are entering a world where information literally never stops. Be able to stop and reflect silently is a skill that is definitely necessary for the 21st century citizen. Great post. Thank you.
Thanks for your comment! In a world that is so plugged in, we truly need those moments of silence in order to regroup and get intouch with whats going on inside. Nice to know that you appreciate that as well!
Sr Geralyn, I always love reading your posts, and boy can I relate to this one! As much as I love being connected and being part of many different online communities, my favorite part of the year is when my husband and I go on our big summer vacation. We typically go camping, and I spend most of that time totally unconnected. No internet, no texting, just enjoying nature. I treasure that time very much.
Your question, “Are you more or less connected since you started spending so much time on the Internet?” made me think so much, and I really feel like I am more connected, whether I’m online or not.
Being online has allowed me to develop so many relationships with individuals that I never would have had the opportunity to meet in real life. While these people came into my life for many varied personal and professional reasons, I feel just as close to many of them as I do to the people I first met in person.
Being online has also taught be how important it is really listen to and think about what people are saying (typing) and ask questions about what I don’t understand. In our real lives we are often so quick to jump to conclusions because of cues we see (and often misinterpret), but we don’t have that online. Because of the connections I’ve made online, I’ve started to really stop and listen to people in my real life and ask them questions when I don’t understand.
I could never survive in a world without physical, human connections. The relationships I have made virtually have taught me many, many important skills that help me connect and make the most of my real life relationships.
I agree with you about my online experience. The individuals in which I have befriended online possess a different part of my heart…. but nevertheless are a part of me! I too have been broadened by these friendships and relationships because they have expanded my vision.
Thanks for your ability to make me own this process as well!
Dear Sr Geralyn,
Wonderful post, at Westtown our students preK-12 sit through our unprogrammed Meeting for Worship once a week (twice if you are a High School boarding student). This 35-60 minutes of silent worship proves again and again to be a source of joy and creative thought. Regardless of the students and adults intentions in terms of religion or waiting on the divine, nearly everyone finds this an essential part of the week for slowing down and quieting oneself. I think this practice of disconnecting from the electronic world and connecting with our inner cores helps us all to then focus more on the relationships waiting for us in our classrooms, team practices, meetings, and our lunch tables. More than a few students will share that their solution to a problem or creative idea for something grew out of this time for silent worship. Sitting in silence with 400 teenagers is itself a powerful experience of community.
Thank you again for you helpful thoughts and reminders that some of the best ideas for our learning revolution, are found within old/perhaps ageless human practices.
I so agree with you about the importance of meeting the Sacred in silence and allowing that to echo in our spirit. Doesn’t it make you cry to see the youth so oned with the Lord? I know it does me!
Barbie has had over 80 careers. The first was as a teenage fashion model. She has had military careers in the Marine corps,airforce and navy. She has been an astronaut,a lawyer a doctor and a rock star. She was a candidate for the presidency of the USA in 1992 and again a candidate in the year 2000.