Is there a minimum age for becoming a curmudgeon? Because with the way certain technology is taking over, I’m rapidly heading in that direction.
The next time you’re in a waiting room, look around. What is everyone doing? Chances are, they’re talking, texting, tweeting, web surfing, taking selfies, and watching cat videos.
Question: whatever happened to just sitting and staring into space? What’s with the 2010s that so many people of all ages feel compelled to fill every moment of waiting with some task on their various electronic devices?
And I really do mean all ages.
I’ve seen people nearly a century old playing with smartphones and babies too young to say “Dada” drooling on tablets. At the risk of getting busted for being an underage curmudgeon, I am declaring this phenomenon a national epidemic.
Allow me to make a disclaimer. As a science fiction fan, I am totally in favor of technological progress. Bring on the robots that clean house, cook dinner, and drive! As a writer, I definitely use a computer with internet access and a word processor every day. But there’s a huge difference between using technologies that save time and technologies that waste time. And I confess, I’ve certainly wasted plenty of time between television and the internet.
But I absolutely draw the line at carrying around any device that enables people to bother me 24/7 or causes a constant stream of unnecessary distractions. When I’m out and about, I am deliberately tech free. You’ll never see me with a smartphone when I’m in line at the post office to mail the greatest manuscript ever to major publishers unsolicited. (Yes, some publishers still require submissions by mail–shocking, I know. Maybe they’re the ones who need to get with the times.) You know what I do instead, especially during holiday package rushes? I daydream. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. I won’t be too surprised if you haven’t. It’s a dying art.
I don’t daydream only when I’m in line or sitting in a waiting room. Often, I’ll just curl up on my window seat, stare out the window, and let my mind take me wherever it wants to go. Some people in our neurotic work-obsessed culture might call that laziness. I prefer to think of it as an essential component of any writer’s job.
From these countless sessions of unstructured daydreaming, I have concocted plots, characters, dialogue, and settings. Most daydreams fail to produce anything valuable, at least right away, and that’s okay. Wasting a day watching cute cat videos typically doesn’t accomplish anything either, so why not use the time to daydream instead? At least daydreaming allows the mind to wander through potentially fruitful ideas. It’s also free entertainment that doesn’t cause eye strain.
Obviously, there needs to be a balance. Daydreams alone won’t magically bring the great American novel into existence. (If only they could… I think I feel a speculative story coming on.) Writing a story and editing it to the point of readability requires discipline. Just remember the famous ABCs of writing: “Apply Butt to Chair.” And there are definitely times when daydreaming is not appropriate, like my mantra “don’t daydream and drive” implies. Tuning out your mother-in-law over Thanksgiving dinner to imagine the next scene of your epic steampunk fantasy novel loosely based on 19thcentury Australia might not be the best idea either.
Still, with the exception of potential safety hazards, I maintain that daydreaming deserves a protected place of honor. This is especially true for writers. Ideas have to come from somewhere. Experiencing the world through the five senses provides a foundation for creating ideas. Multiple experiences coupled with time to daydream create an ideal environment where the imagination can flourish. When the memories of all those real-world, hands-on, concrete experiences mesh together in bizarre and unpredictable ways, who knows what imaginative creations might result? For speculative writers in particular, having an active imagination is critical to our work.
So the next time you’re stuck waiting at a bus stop, think twice before whipping out your phone. Instead, observe your surroundings and let your mind wander a little bit.
Maybe a vague, random thought will emerge from the depths. Play with it a little, but don’t force it. Perhaps nothing will come of it.
Then again, it could be the start of your next story.
Just think of all the stories that may never have existed because you didn’t simply stare off into space and think. I say it’s time to reclaim the art of daydreaming before our ability to do so vanishes into cyberspace. Who’s with me?
Oh, and don’t daydream so much that you miss the bus.
E.J. LeRoy is a freelance writer, poet, and aspiring novelist whose work has appeared at Submittable Blog. “The DeVore Incident” is LeRoy’s first published speculative short story.
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I read that midwives are seeing a decline in the smile response of 6-month old babies. They put this down to their parents and other adults paying them less attention than people used to, because their attention is on their phones.
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