Turning the computer off

Julian Beever. Google him. Now.

The irony of blogging about avoiding my computer has not escaped me. Today I took a five-hour sabbatical from my computer. The fact that this is noteworthy verges on pathetic, but that is the existence I have let myself slip into. Even though I work at a theater, I’m usually attached to a desk and a computer. Sometimes I swivel my chair around, prop my feet up on a neighboring chair, and open up a book or a read through a script, but even then my email beeps when new messages arrives. Some days I visit rehearsal or see a student production, but this is, at most, a couple hours away from the screen. That is the reality of a research/writing/editing oriented job in theater, and there is nothing that can be done about that. But that is only 40 hours a week.

I have never written a play by hand. I have started plays in notebooks. Actually I almost always start on paper, but then I quickly abandon the pen because it is too slow. Typing is faster and cleaner and more organized and more forgiving. I think it might be a problem. The first class I took in college was an 8am graphic design course. I quit after the first session and enrolled in drawing. I hated staring at the computer screen. I wanted to get dirty. Charcoals followed and, eventually, printer’s ink. I don’t have feeling in a small section of the middle finger of my left hand because I stabbed myself with a Chōkokutō Power Grip blade when I hit a knot in block I was carving. Maybe playwriting should result in at least a few papercuts?

My sister sent me a link to this CNN article a couple days ago: “Brain-Twitter project offers hope to paralyzed patients“:

Adam Wilson posted two messages on Twitter on April 15. The first one, “GO BADGERS,” might have been sent by any University of Wisconsin-Madison student cheering for the school team.

The brain-computer interface allows people to compose a tweet by focusing on the desired letter.

His second post, 20 minutes later, was a little more unusual: “SPELLING WITH MY BRAIN.”

Wilson, a doctoral student in biomedical engineering, was confirming an announcement he had made two weeks earlier — his lab had developed a way to post messages on Twitter using electrical impulses generated by thought.

That’s right, no keyboards, just a red cap fitted with electrodes that monitor brain activity, hooked up to a computer flashing letters on a screen. Wilson sent the messages by concentrating on the letters he wanted to “type,” then focusing on the word “twit” at the bottom of the screen to post the message.

It seems like only a matter of time until twittering a letter at a time evolves into full sentences in an instant. Plug a wireless chip into the back of our brais, and we’re posting online. Reverse the direction and we’ll have emails beamed directly into an inbox in our mind. I am not catastrophizing. I think it’s great. But I don’t think I’ll sign up. During my five-hour sabbatical, I called talked to two dear friends on the phone for an hour; in a spiral-bound multi-drawing notebook, I wrote out the biographies of three characters I am creating; I read a few chapters of Pride and Prejudice; I took a nap with my cats. Next weekend maybe I’ll try for six hours. After we find an apartment and Craigslist is not a requisite daily activity, maybe I will avoid my computer completely on Sundays.

Yes. I think that would be lovely.

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