I spent a fair amount of time outdoors as a young boy, riding my bike, shooting my BB gun, and exploring the field surrounding our home in Kearney, NE. I specifically remember walking outside one Summer morning and sitting on the sidewalk in front of our house, looking down and finding a couple of sticks. Picking them up and examining them, I felt the wood, noticed the offshoots, ran my fingers along the bark and broke one in half, looked intently at the break and the tiny splinters. My mind wandered a bit, thinking about the tree from which they came, imagining the leaves, the growth, the sun and how that energy was transformed into this wood and how wood can be a source of fuel for a fire. I studied these sticks and other debris on the sidewalk along with ant hills, small pebbles, and other foliage for hours although it only felt like a few brief moments.
This was my attempt at filling in the negative space of not having anything else, in particular, to do in that moment as a kid. It was glorious. I often times look back to that precious memory, the sticks, and the detail with fondness. But to be completely honest I wrestle with this so called “negative space” now. I’m not sure if it’s technology, or if I just have more responsibilities as an adult, or what…but it seems as though there’s always something fighting for my attention and waiting for my action. My wife shared this video with me by Simon Sinek last week and it got me thinking about this again. Simon is talking generally about Millennials in the workplace, but pay special attention to what he says about patience and instant gratification.
Crack open a cold one, and watch the video (15 minutes):
Fascinating right!? I can’t tell you how many times I look over at the car next to me and the person’s head down in their phone waiting at a stop light. Or walking down the sidewalk completely absorbed in what’s on that screen. I’m just as guilty as anyone when it comes to this. Or am I? I’ve got a business to run, we focus on customer service, I need to be on top of things 24/7…or do I? ?
I think our first challenge is rethinking negative space altogether. Like, is it really negative? Or is it just undiscovered space? I truly believe in opportunity cost and I believe it applies here as well. When we choose to default to our devices, our unhealthy habits, whatever they may be, what are we giving up? What’s the cost associated with that action? Aren’t we surely missing an opportunity? An opportunity to find beauty in our surroundings, connect with someone, or discover something new?
I’m trying to notice my own habits and patterns. I’m also trying to think through how I can best raise my own children in this environment, through these challenges. I think it’s so much more than just tech etiquette. It’s deeper than addiction. It seems to me it’s more about how comfortable we are with the silence, the negative space, whatever you want to call it. For me, I’m starting to think about it as “discovery” and that carries with it a bunch of passion and excitement. Instead of a mindset of “don’t default to your phone David” I’m trying to think about it more as “what are you missing?” and “don’t miss out!”.
Let me know what you think about all of this. I’m curious to know your perspective. For me personally, I never want to lose sight of those sticks, and my wonder and amazement in the details of life.