"We don't know where we get our ideas from. What we do know is that we do not get them from our laptops."
While I love my computer, I think computers have robbed us of the feeling that we're actually making things. Instead we're just tapping keys and clicking mouse buttons. This is why so-called knowledge work seems so abstract. The artist Stanley Donwood, who's designed all the album artwork for the band Radiohead, says computers are alienating because they put a sheet of glass between you and whatever is happening. "You never really get to touch anything that you're doing unless you print it out."
Just watch someone at their computer. They're so still, so immobile. You don't need a scientific study (of which there are a few) to tell you that sitting in front of a computer all day is killing you, and killing your work. We need to move, to feel we're making something with our bodies, not just our heads.
You know the phrase, "going through the motions"? That's what's so great about creative work. If we just start going through the motions, if we strum a guitar, shuffle sticky notes around a conference table, or start kneading clay, the motion kick-starts our brain into thinking.
The computer is really good for editing your ideas, and it's really good for getting your ideas ready for publishing out into the real world, but it's not really good for generating ideas. There are too many opportunities to hit the delete key. The computer brings out the uptight perfectionist in us – we start editing ideas before we have them. An illustrator once told me that he keeps away from the computer until he's done most of the thinking for his work, because once the computer is involved, "things are on the inevitable path to being finished. Whereas in my sketchbook the possibilities are endless."
Recently, a good friend of mine said, "I’ve stared long enough at the glowing flat rectangles of the computer screen. Let’s give more time for doing things in the real world… Plant a plant, walk the dog, read a real book, go to an exhibition… experience the real and now."
It wasn't until I started bringing analogue tools back into my process that making things became fun again and my work started to really come to life.
So I urge you to pull yourself away from your computer – maybe go to the Barbican and experience the Rain Room (at The Curve until 3 March). This truly inspirational exhibit invites brave visitors to enter a hundred-square-metre downpour, without getting the slightest bit wet. Combining technology with the real world, it affects our senses and emotions in unexpected ways.
Take a look at this video: http://bit.ly/UbZcrR
As you step up onto the stage the identical vertical lines of driving rain are repelled, as if you’re giving off a kind of invisible field. As you step further in, the rain closes around you, enveloping each silhouetted figure in a perfect cylindrical void. It is a startlingly surreal experience.
The group treats each project as part of an ongoing process of research into the relationship between people and new intelligent technologies, and has been working with the cognitive scientist Philip Barnard to analyse people's behaviour.
Take a break from the computer, start thinking creatively. Send your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org and see if you’re showcased in my next feature.