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Do Smartphones Dampen Creativity?


Technology–and smartphones in particular–provide almost constant stimulation for bored minds. From social media to games, news, videos or music and back; there is always something to see, read or do at your fingertips. With the power of the internet in your pocket, there’s no reason to ever be bored.

But what if being bored is actually a good thing?

Recent studies argue that being bored is actually good for you and can stimulate creativity and thought. New Tech City actually did a series pretty recently about how  we, as a whole, are missing out on the little things by being constantly connected to everything all the time. Think about it. It’s not uncommon to see people clutching their phones like lifelines while in the store or pausing in the middle of just about any task–even something as important as a date or driving–to pull out smartphones and use them.

Here’s a video that New Tech City put together to count how many people on a New York street were holding or using their phones while walking. Hint: it’s a pretty big number.

Pretty startling, isn’t it? So much so to the writers of NTC, that they banded together with NPR to create a challenge for readers to try disconnecting more. The campaign, called Bored and Brilliant: The Lost Art of Spacing Out, ended late last month and encouraged users to closely monitor their smartphone usage (via Moment or other apps) and evaluate how devices are used. It’s over now, but what many people discovered is that it can be a hard habit to break. It’s so easy and tempting to just pick up that little glowing box and entertain yourself and just check out of whatever is going on around you. But, experts are saying that it might be at the cost of our creativity.

From a less expert view, I have personally found that even just stepping away from technology for a little bit can help push your brain to start thinking in new ways and exploring new avenues. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve taken a brief walk while stumped on a writing deadline, and returned only to pump out a fantastic article in record time. I don’t really consider myself too addicted to my technology but, just like everyone else, I definitely use it way more than is absolutely necessary.

In fact, studies show that mobile consumers spend an average of 2 hours and 57 minutes per day looking at their phones (not consecutively, of course). And in 2013, ABC reported that average users checked their phones an average of 150 times a day. 150! I can’t even imagine how much wasted time that represents. And that’s just the average–I am sure many people far surpass that. If that number seems a little high, you can try downloading this app to count how many times you unlock and look at your device each day. You might be surprised.

Of course, to play devil’s advocate, maybe we’re all just being alarmists. I mean, obviously creative projects and thought is still happening despite technological interruptions–otherwise what else would we all be watching and reading and doing on those little mobile devices? In fact, you could even argue that technology has spawned even greater creativity in some areas and far more productivity.

It’s almost like two sides of a coin, and I can’t quite decide where I stand on it. So tell me what you think! Do phones lessen creativity and thinking/problem solving in general? Or is this all nonsense? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!