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]