Do you ever get that feeling that, when you’re struggling for an answer, you never can find it, but when you’re focused on something else, you suddenly see the answer right in front of you? And in fact, from then on, everything you look at, everything you read, everyone you speak to, is giving you more bits and pieces to the answer?
I do. Not often enough, because I don’t always take my own advice. I fight through questions too much at times, going over and over situations, running scenario after scenario until my brain hurts.
Two articles I’ve read recently, from two very different perspectives, tell a similar story. One, an article from the New York Times “Your Brain on Computers — Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime” talks about the fact that the exercise machines with the tvs and ipod ports and video displays may help keep you sweating but don’t give your brain the same release as excersing outside.
Putting your brain on hold or downtime, helps place things in perspective, because it is during down times that the brain literally puts things in their place. “‘Almost certainly, downtime lets the brain go over experiences it’s had, solidify them and turn them into long-term memories,’ said Loren Frank, assitant professor in the department of physiology at the university [of California, San Francisco]….He said he believed that when the brain was constantly stimulated, ‘you prevenet this learning process.'”
The other article (courtesy of Mitch Joel’s Blog) is from Wired magazine, about a transportation engineer in Holland who has focused on removing roadsigns to increase awareness (and thereby improve safety). The author travels with the engineer, Hans Monderman, to a city intersection he designed. “..there it is: the Intersection. It’s the confluence of two busy two-lane roads that handle 20,000 cars a day, plus thousands of bicyclists and pedestrians. Several years ago, Monderman ripped out all the traditional instruments used by traffic engineers to influence driver behavior – traffic lights, road markings, and some pedestrian crossings – and in their place created a roundabout, or traffic circle….To an approaching driver, the intersection is utterly ambiguous — and that’s the point….The drivers slow to gauge the intentions of crossing bicyclists and walkers. Negotiations over right of way are made through fleeting eye contact. Remarkably, traffic moves smoothly around the circle with hardly a brake screeching, horn honking, or obscene gesture. ‘I love it!’ Monderman says at last. ‘Pedestrians and cyclists used to avoid this place, but now, as you see, the cars look out for the cyclists, the cyclists look out for the pedestrains, and everyone looks out for each other.'”
We live in an age where we are assaulted by data, signs, stimulation. Perhaps now, more than ever, we need to step back, perhaps even away, rip off the ear buds, tear our eyes from the tv or the computer and live at analog speed for a while. Then, when we least expect it, we’ll see what we’ve been looking for all that time. Or at least be aware of all that we can see and (like driving through an intersection without directions) live a life more self-directed.