"Unplug" and "recharge": darkly funny, isn't it, that the words we use to describe the serenity of moving away from the screen are themselves electronics words?
We're in front of screens for hours every day. Computer at work. Computer at home. Smart phone. Television. Tablet. There's even a screen on my coffeemaker. Science types are discovering that the blue light emanating from all these devices disrupts our sleep patterns, and that sitting a lot shortens our lives.
Often after a long workday, most of it spent in front of the computer, I get home only to jump onto my own digital devices -- and I've got one of practically everything. All too infrequently I remember to break myself away and turn back to pen and paper. The touch of paper and the scratch of the pen make me feel like I'm working with my hands, crafting. Usually sending a card is the impetus to return me to paper and pen. As I'm writing, I know they'll receive something I actually touched, even if I didn't spritz my perfume like an elegant Victorian lady would have.
Seeing my own handwriting is a reminder of who I am. Handwriting and quality of line are like fingerprints, no two alike. I'm not embarrassed to admit that I'm sometimes mesmerized by my own running script (especially when I'm writing with one of those pens that somehow elevates my penmanship, usually with an extra-fine nib). I relish those moments when it's at its best, flowing and regular, unlike hastily-scrawled notes. My own handwriting can lull me into a state of flow as my thoughts take tangible form.
Gradually I notice that the hum of electronics is no longer there, and I can hear myself think. Paper doesn't hum, whir or beep. If it does make noise, it's because I'm choosing to crumple or fold, so there's a direct relationship between my actions and the resulting auditory output. I don't flip back and forth frenetically between one piece of paper and another as I often do with the different screens on my laptop (or television). Reading something online? Look up another factoid. Email dings? Stop what I'm doing and see what's just come in. Tired of working? Check Facebook. Paper streamlines my mind, permitting me to focus on the task (literally) at hand.
At a time when information is barraging us from all angles and we are constantly pressured by the imperatives of high-tech productivity (as well as seemingly infinite digital space), the physical limitations of a greeting card or a sticky note comfort me, saying "You only have to write this much -- make it count."
When I'm stuck, whether emotionally or intellectually, really good and truly stuck, I turn back to paper to pull myself out of the mire. Somehow setting thought to physical sheet allows me to break through the noise in my own brain and get to the elemental core of my internal intelligence. I knew how to get to the answer, but I just couldn't hear myself. I remember things that I've handwritten better than those I've typed, perhaps because they're seared into my muscle memory as well as my little pea of a brain, ever stuffed to the gills with commercial jingles.
Paper is just one of the ways we can find solace in pulling away from screens. Cooking. Gardening. Fishing. Sewing. We've made and done things with our hands for about a billion times longer than we've worked with electronics. Handwork actually brings about different neurological states than pure thought work, putting us into the high-alpha-wave flow that pulls forth pure creativity, fostering intuitive leaps and insights precisely because our monkey minds are quieted. I'm grateful for digital devices, and obviously they're not going anywhere. But in their contrast to paper and handwork, they allow us to make an artisinal choice in the moment, to say "I don't want to be on a screen; I want to do something different," just like someone who knits will buy almost all their practical sweaters but enjoy creating special pieces.
For the three-year lifespan of most computing devices, I'm stuck with my screen tools, but I can choose my paper tools on a whim. Toothy paper. A finer-than-fine Japanese pen tip that almost scratches as I write, providing resistance against the speed of my thoughts. And all that unhealthy sitting? I actually have to get up from my computer to fetch paper and pen, to walk to the store around the corner to buy a card for a friend. There you go: paper as fitness program. If only we could put that forward, recreational screens wouldn't have a chance!
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