All Work and No Play

In her recent New York Times article, director/producer Alex Mar explores the psychological effects of unplugging from the digital world during her four week writing residency at MacDowell Colony. Having stumbled across a digital loophole during her “Idyllic, Thoreau-level isolated residency in the woods,” Ms. Mar identifies her fall from grace as part of a widespread epidemic. Residencies, which Ms. Mar offers “have long been the writer’s last defense against the distractions of the outside world,” are unable to successfully repel the irresistible force of the digital world today.

Like a siren, the Internet bewitches us with its unlimited supply of information and ultimately transforms us into e-addicts, desperate for the next fix. And despite our best judgments, sometimes we find ourselves victims of a digital hangover the next morning, having experienced an unexpected binge of online shopping for arbitrary vinyl records or participating in a marathon text session with that friend who seamlessly fuses with your own stream of consciousness.

Given the ease with which almost anyone can go online today, it comes as no surprise that working methods have fallen victim of ADHD. Assuming there are no firewalls within your place of work, when was the last time you “worked solidly” at your computer for more than ten minutes without checking your email, Facebook/Twitter accounts, that amazing online sale at, or catching a headline from the local newspaper? Within this new construct of “work” it appears that we need to work harder to work better.

Ms. Mar cites that many art institutions have reached a creative impasse with how to reconfigure, if at all, their 20th Century programs for a 21st Century world. Whereas some entities choose to adapt to this new standard by tempering the accessibility of the internet, other programs deliberately stay rooted in analog mode. That these limitations may very well cause fissures within our comfort zones of communication is rather worrisome. Furthermore, knowing that software programs have been created to help us cope with various “withdrawal” symptoms indicates that the humor has officially run dry on this topic.

Short of many art institutions having to stage a series of awkward interventions (which would not only cut into programming but also self-esteem), the implementation of a strict digital diet seems to be the best antidote for this malady. I have met many writers and artists who maintain a regimented schedule, and much of it excludes Internet indulgences.  One dawn-loving bard I know wakes up daily at 4am, writes until noon, and then plays golf late into the afternoon.  Another artist I know is practically nocturnal, and chooses to answer the bulk of their digital correspondence after midnight. Within this select group of creative minds, many of them do not own a television. Many of them still read the newspaper–offline.  Many of them go to their public libraries and check out books to read. Many of them fall asleep with a journal by their pillow and wake up in the morning and write down their dreams. Many of them practice meditation, chanting and go on silent retreats.  Like any diet, consistency is key. Equally important is to recognize that each diet must be customized in order for it to work within our lifestyle.  However, we must be careful when easing into new rituals. Just remember all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

For more information about residency programs, please see Tomas Vu Interview, November 2012