Why Your iPhone Addiction Is Snuffing Your Creativity

Having a stimulation fix in your pocket isn't always the best for you. In praise of the power of boredom.

Are tweets, statuses, pins, pokes, and pixels dominating your life? This week, as part of our #unplug series, we're re-posting some of our most popular stories from the archives, with a special focus on the beauty of a tech break, the power of analog, and how a little quiet can kickstart creativity.

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You know the feeling--you're walking to the coffee machine, and you feel a tingle of knowledge-needing excitement. You pull out your phone to check Twitter, and promptly walk into a wall.

And while that may be what's happening with your face, it's also what's happening with your creative energy. When we're constantly thumbing at our smartphones, our minds are always engaged--yay, stimulation!--but we're not actually thinking about anything. Like Brian S. Hall at ReadWrite says, since we never get bored, we never get creative.

The value of boredom

Boredom has been defined as wanting to be able to engage in a satisfying activity and not being able to. Its sibling is downtime, both of which the smartphone--and the Angry Birds it implies--eradicates. Another way to look at boredom, Hall says, is to think of it as a creative pause where your mind can drift, which allows you to integrate your recent experiences into your present state of mind.

Sitting with boredom

So let's get a little bit more refined in our terminology: it's not that we should be in useless awful meetings, the kind that prompt the feeling of I'm so bored!, but rather that we resist the urge to always act on that gestural itch and give our brains a mindful break or time to daydream. Like any designer will tell you, absence has presence. Not doing is a kind of doing.

The boredom diet

In the same way that what we eat when we're hungry has short- and long-term consequences, the actions we take when we're bored have ongoing outcomes. So says NYU's Gary Marcus: if you're bored and use that energy to play an instrument and cook, you'll be growing; if you drool before your television, you might be happy for a second, but that stimulation junk food will depress you later.

Since most of what we do on our phones is the daily dillydallying of social networks, playing games, and texting, your iPhone acts like an endless supply of Cheetos.

So before you dissolve into your screen, check your fingers for orange dust.

The iPhone Killed My Creativity

[Image: Flickr user Christopher Paulin]

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35 Comments

  • Scottifoxx

    I agree. Thought if share a poem I wrote on the subject last year;

    'Borg'

    I see,
    Human beings of all ages
    staring into the little portals
    of their mobiles for ages,

    All looking so busy and preoccupied meanwhile all life outside
    is less and less observed and conserved, neglected if you prefer the word,

    The world is changing
    How long till we become Borg?
    Robotised beings, a completely different range,

    The ironic thing is, i'm writing this by staring into a similar portal,
    Only I'm aware of the impact it has on myself and us all.

  • STL

    It's also killing inter-personal relationships. I was in the park the other day, sun shining, beautiful day, enjoying the trees around me. Across the way on a bench sat a mother and her little son (probably about 6 years old). The mother was so engrossed in her iPhone that she didn't even notice her son who looked so depressed and sad and bored. Then he tried to get her attention by tickling her and she again, like a drone, ignored him. Mother of the Year! If that is the future--a society full of men who feel an inexplicable sense of inadequacy and loneliness because their mother was more interested in a dumb device than in playing with them, kill me now!

  • Adhy Hosen

    Too much of anything is always. Do anything with a clear purpose in mind. If it's a 5 minute break playing "Angry Bird" then play it for 5 minutes only. That's what I do as an Angry Bird fan. As for clearing my head, I agree that the brain needs to a 'downtime' so that it can 'drift' and reconcile all the incoming inputs -- I do this when I am having my daily morning run.

  • Gallllatea

    Text is text whether it's on a phone or in a book. I read a lot and use reference tools on my iPhone.  As for Facebook, it's good for making plans, outside that, I keep everyone hid in my newsfeed so all I use it for is making plans kind of like email.  If someone wants to message me, that's fine. But I no longer peruse daily posts.  If you need to get rid of it altogether to survive, you really have issues with addiction!  Like anything else in life, moderation is key.  As for kids and phones, a whole other issue. If I had them and they were on it 24/7 like I see so many doing, I'd carry a blocker with me. They put blockers in most college classrooms for this reason.  Some people are relentless.

  • Nate

    I have an "old-skool" flip phone. It's conscious choice I made to leave the Internet on my computer and not take it with me wherever I go. The only thing I might change would be to get one that's better for texting, but that's worthy of a whole other discussion.

  • Phoenix

    If devices and social media actually stop you from being creative than you are not creative at all. Nothing stop creativity and thinking. and idea rises like a phoenix no matter what is in it's way. 

  • fxia41103

    This is saying in water whether you know how to swim or not you won't die, cause air will find its way in no matter.. but you see, water crowds out air in some cases.

  • Chad

    Great article. Has distraction become the new boredom? I would venture to guess that most people found this article based on a series of internet misguidance's. While, in no way am I disagreeing with your analysis, I do think boredom has evolved. Certainly if you're starring into the television set while you're bored, you're not growing your mind, but the smart phone CAN help us grow during boredom, if used properly. Pre-smart phone, this would be similar to watching plopping in front of the television but watching the history channel or TLC, instead of trash. 

    Just wanted to put it out there, but I think we could all benefit from unplugging for a little while.

  • Jason Webster

    This article is extremely timely. I broke my SmartPhone 6 days ago, and have made a point not to replace it yet. While I value the capabilities of my SmartPhone, I can now see how addictive it is. Think about it....people are on their phones: while driving, in a meeting, laying in bed, while talking to their kids, etc.

    I'm not sure I'll be able to go long without my SmartPhone, but I have to say that the experience has been refreshing. I'm a true example of #ThrowbackThursday!

  • Dosgeckos Intensivos

    If an iPhone kills your creativity, you had none to start with.

  • John McCarthy III

    I got rid of Facebook, it took me a warm-up period to see what it is like, and aside from any benefits from it, I use my smart phone way less.  I think what you're getting at here is that an iPhone can make someone anti-social, but so can Facebook or Twitter.  What you should not do is trust the marketers that these products do what they intend to do.  Have your priorities, see if your technology is working to advance them, and find ways to eliminate that which does not advance your interests.  I have toyed with not having a smartphone all together, but it really has a bunch of uses, including emergency type of uses as well.

  • TheShef

    Top level athletes are required to rest, because this is when their body truly rejuvenates. Our minds are the same way. When someone is constantly engaged (usually responding), they are frying their creativity. 

    I find the following three steps very beneficial:
    1. Schedule 10 minutes every 2 hours to pause, disconnect, and breathe. This mental "catnap" allows my brain the mental recharge it needs. 
    2. Consciously plan on how to deal with distractions. An electronic notification which screams for your immediate attention is just like someone knocking on the door of your office, demanding your time for something that is usually neither important or urgent. 
    3. Schedule the iPhone "blow off" time. If you plan on spending 20 minutes playing Angry Birds or checking Facebook, do it without feeling guilty! The whole premise is to live intentionally.  

  • CeilidhHiggins

    Many people also suggest that meditation stimulates creativity...another kind of not doing.  

  • Walker-m

    I agree with the value and importance of boredom, but I think the iPhone and iPad can also be a great source of inspiration, for example, I'm reading your article and I thinking about all the possible implications and coming up with theories and ideas about how to write this comment and also how to make sure I don't fall fail of this, so is it one of those double edged swords? Where as long as its done in balance then both benefits can be enjoyed?

  • Mario Andres Niebles Goenaga

    Although, this is true, I have also heard from a designer that companies should allow creative individuals use Social Networks at work to spice their creativity. I think the problem is not using your smartphone but for what reason you use it! Some people don't have a "good" creativity and it's better for society to have them checking out tweets than starting wars and bullies. Thank you!

  • cathyd

     I agree with you, Mario. It's just the new way to communicate, and I find myself communicating more with those with whom I would not normally chat. Also, I find myself thinking about things I would not normally give 5 minutes thought, and I read way more than I used to. It's easy to see the iphone as a crusher of all things human, and I just feel it's like what the telegraph, telephone, tv used to get for reaction. I can see how they cause problems, but I see them, for most, as another tool for doing business as humans. No biggie. Hey, I got to communicate with Mario, a guy I never met. Years ago, this was not possible. Cool!