But if we’re always connected, when does our brain get this downtime?
Ask yourself this, in the last 24 hours how much time did you spend doing nothing (and not asleep)? It was probably very little – I estimate mine to be about 30 minutes. We’re always on our phones, checking our emails, watching TV, updating Twitter, etc. etc. Even previous bastions of ‘nothing’ such as waiting for the bus or going to the toilet can now be filled with networking, connecting and communicating.
In volunteer management forums I hear a lot of talk about ‘reclaiming time for yourself’, and I agree that this is a very good thing. But people generally use the phrase to mean taking time to catch up on that reading you have to do, to make contact with a colleague, or to get up to date with the latest news.
To me, it seems we could be missing a trick here. Could we become more productive, have greater ideas, and work through problems faster by actually taking some time to genuinely do nothing? There is certainly research to back up this idea – check out Rest Is Not Idleness: Implications of the Brain’s Default Mode for Human Development and Education or this article Why your brain needs more downtime. When we’re doing nothing, our brains aren’t idle. They’re active, with parts of the brain firing up that aren’t used when we’re focused on a task.
There’s also a lot of experiential evidence to support this, from people who meditate to those who simply take a bit of time out. Try going for a walk (without your ipod), eating a sandwich (without your laptop or even a good book in front of you), or maybe polishing your shoes (without the radio or TV for company) and you can experience it for yourself – it’s amazing what scoots round in your head.
So, is doing nothing a luxury we can’t afford, or an essential that we’d be crazy to miss out on? Is being connected always better?