Theme Parks and External and Internal Input
This week I've been on vacation in Florida, visiting my family and touring the theme parks -- Seaworld, Disneyworld, and (soon) Busch Gardens. I used to live in Florida and would go to Busch Gardens all the time. But this week is more extreme. Our first day at Seaworld, I realized my theme park endurance was poor. The next day at Disney was much better, even with just 6 hours of sleep the night before. The second time around Seaworld (of course one day wasn't enough) was like stopping off for a brief jaunt at the mall, except when we temporarily lost our daughter, which sent us on a roller coaster of emotions.
While walking around theme parks, I've been thinking about a talk Nicole Mazzarella, author of This Heavy Silence, gave last month at the BYU-I writing conference. Talking to a group of would-be writers, Nicole explained the need to "live in the moment." She talked about the need to disconnect from whatever media is taking you away from the moment you're in -- Twitter, Facebook, email, IM -- and to focus on the moment you're in. This ability to be in the moment is as critical to writing as other time-worn advice, such as reading or reflecting.
I wasn't quite sure what to do with that advice. But now I'm starting to understand.
Theme parks floor you with mesmerizing shows, constant music, visual stimuli, greasy food, stomach-losing rides, character-filled stories, and an overall constant stream of external input. The more external input that comes in, the less internal input you need to generate. When I'm flooded with external input, I seem to lose touch with my own thoughts and direction. In this way, theme parks are like TV, a continual escape where no internal input of my own is needed. I just follow the map, hold onto my kids, and move from show to ride to food kiosk to exhibit to show to ride until the day finishes, and then I drive home and collapse from exhaustion.
When I'm not at a theme park, when I'm living my regular life, immersed in the moments of silence so typical of writing and a quiet family life, I often feel a tendency to turn on sports, the radio, Google Talk for email or IM, Twitter, and start any other form of external input I can find.
But that external input takes me away from the moment. It disrupts my attention on what I should be doing or thinking about. Perhaps there's more to the moment that I'm missing when I fail to focus. This isn't a single task versus multi-task discussion, or an argument about how each disruption requires 20 minutes of downtime to refocus. I'm saying that when I put myself in situations of extreme external input, like a theme park, the amount of internally generated input is minimized. With minimal internal input, my creativity sinks, and my muse goes mute.
But this is a balancing act, because external input is often the stimuli that generates internal reflection and analysis. I'm still putting together my thoughts on internal and external input. For now, I'm starting to be acutely aware of the difference. Can you help clarify what I'm trying to say?
About Tom Johnson
I'm a technical writer based in the San Francisco Bay area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.