Poynter’s Steve Myers on Hamlet’s BlackBerry and ‘Digital White Space’

2011-03-25T18:09:56+00:00 March 25th, 2011|

Where you want to be

When you say something at South by Southwest (SXSW), it sure reverberates. Poynter, the journalism institute, just published a great piece by Steve Myers headlined, “How ‘Hamlet’s BlackBerry’ & ‘Think Quarterly’ Show Why We Should Stop Toggling Between Screens and Stretch Our Minds.”

Myers does an amazing job of capturing my presentation at SXSW. And I like the way he linked my message to the principle behind Think, a magazine Google has just launched. Its goal: to help us find “breathing space in a busy world.”

The need was especially evident at SXSW, an event that famously aims to spark creativity and human connections, yet often feels like a gigantic competition to see who can be more absent from the people and conversations happening right around them. Everyone in Austin was gazing into their little devices – a bit desperately, too, as if their lives depended on not missing the next tweet.

Since SXSW is a proven predictor of where we’ll all be in a few years, get ready for a world in which eye contact and real listening are as rare as black truffles and the Northern Lights.  Do we really want that?  Here’s Myers:

The challenge at an event like South by Southwest is that you spend all your time packing new ideas into your head and not enough time processing them. William Powers, author of “Hamlet’s BlackBerry,” would have told all those people to stop running around and staring at screens, and instead create some mental space to unpack everything they had seen and heard.

He explains my theory that this challenge is not as new as it seems. Something similar occurs every time an innovative technology comes along. It’s simple: New connective devices make the world – and the mind – a busier place. It happened in ancient Greece and in Renaissance Europe and in 19th-century America, and it’s happening again now. As in those previous epochs, it’s up to us to find ways to quiet our minds, focus, leave the crowd behind.

Why? Because that’s where all the good stuff happens, including those wild, original thoughts nobody’s ever had before. If you spend you all day and night burrowing into your smartphone, you can kiss the eureka moments goodbye. Look up! Hit the off button! Pay attention! Show up for your life.

The key, Powers said, is to create gaps between these periods of connectedness. Just as white space on a page draws attention to what is most visually important, digital white space can help us focus on those ideas that take some time to formulate.

The full piece is here.