To Become Bored Yet Brilliant

To Become Bored Yet Brilliant

Recent project by New Tech City and NPR relate cell phones

to the downfall of boredom and creativity

The average American checks his or her cellphone over 150 times a day, but 67 percent of the time, the phone isn’t vibrating or ringing – according to the Bored and Bril­liant project conducted by WNYC, the national public radio station in New York City. If you do the math, that’s almost every 10 sec­onds in a 24-hour period.

And it gets worse. Here at Hock­aday, students check their phones every 5 to 6 seconds.

In a poll taken of Hockaday’s Upper School students, 120 out of 175 people said they check their phones be­tween 240 to 280 times a day.

Despite the di­rect link to contin­uous information, cellphones mini­mize the amount of time available for the brain to ex­perience boredom, which is essential to brain develop­ment, according to Dr. Jonathan Smallwood, a cog­nitive neuroscientist at University of York in the U.K.

In an attempt to bring back boredom, the Bored and Bril­liant project, which monitors cell phone usage with apps such as Moment and BreakFree, started a social experiment on Feb. 2.

The project discovered that one out of three people were using or holding their phones while walking.

And people are not just depen­dent on their phones while awake. Previous research collected with the Moment app showed that 44 percent of Americans sleep with their phones by their beds.

Freshman Maye McPhail finds herself within that 44 percent of Americans. “I feel like people al­ways need to have their phone around, even when they’re sleeping just in case something happens and they need to be notified,” she said.

Dependency on phones, and technology in gen­eral, hinders our ability to space out, daydream and therefore be creative. Up­per School Learning Spe­cialist Shelley Cave has looked into several studies associated with creativity and boredom.

“When we’re not bored, our brains jump from one thought to another, to a task, to another, and we’re highly engaged and neurons are firing,” Cave said. “When you’re bored, it’s not necessarily boredom but a downtime where you get an opportunity to actually connect to new thoughts and to look at things in ways you haven’t thought of be­fore.”

Throughout the day, the oppor­tunities to zone out and be creative are more available than you think.

When interviewed by the Board and Brilliant Project, Smallwood said that thinking in the shower strikes inspiration because it’s a unique moment when the mind is pausing and people are not focus­ing on anything specific.

“There’s a close link between originality, novelty and creativ­ity and these sort of spontaneous thoughts that we generate when our minds are idle,” he said.

The idea that boredom and idle­ness are linked to creativity stems from the concept of imaginative play for toddlers and preschoolers.

“Having an empty field is actual­ly more beneficial than a full play­ground with things for them to play on. They can create their own games, choose their own rules and form their own world, and that’s coming out of emptiness, which is not necessarily boredom but a quiet time,” Cave said.

Photo Editor Claire Fletcher

Smallwood’s research verifies the link between cellphones and the decrease in boredom. “What smartphones allow us to do is get rid of boredom in a very direct way because we can play games, phone people and check the internet. It takes away boredom, but it also denies us the chance to see and learn about what we truly are in terms of our goals,” Small­wood said to WNYC.

Senior Meredith Burke, who only uses her phone when biking to and from school everyday, spends a lot of her time unplugged from technology and has ex­perienced the benefits of boredom.

“I think spending a moment by yourself and just thinking about whatever pops into your brain is a part of what the brain is functioned to do. I think you lose some processing abilities that help you come up with new and interesting ideas,” Burke said.

Similar to the Bored and Brilliant Proj­ect, Google has launched the Google Ge­nius Hour campaign to schedule an hour of open creativity slots for their employ­ees to explore and unplug.

“Even at Google and even at Microsoft, the technology is not the main point of what they’re asking people to do in that hour. It’s to become unplugged and to let their brains and their thought processes work through their motions without the interruption of other things coming in through a phone or iPad,” Cave said.

The idea of an open creative hour sounds appealing to Burke.

“I don’t know what I would do with my hour — maybe I would go up to the third floor of the science building and do something with the 3D printing or design,” she said.

Reaching for a cell phone to escape boredom is common. Technology Board Head Jason Curtis understands the un­avoidable draw a cell phone or any elec­tronic device may have.

“If you’re bored, it’s not surprising that in moments of boredom, we use our de­vices. You have a device that has every bit of information at your fingertips, so if you want something to do, you can probably find it — even though we end up playing Angry Birds or something,” Curtis said.

According to Cave, schools have started to take the studies of boredom into ac­count by adding more free time for cre­ativity into their schedules. The Shlen­ker School in Florida, for example, has included one hour of unscheduled time a week in which students have to come up with creative projects on their own.

“As we move into different ways to do engineering, different ways to do the gen­eration of ideas and creativity, that win­dow of unplanned time where you have the chance to explore is really healthy in a time where we schedule almost every­thing and are connected to almost every­thing,” Cave said.

Despite the inhibitions from cell­phones on mental tasks, social interac­tions and boredom, cellphones are not the enemy of conversation. According to Curtis, cell phones create opportunities for people to interact in ways that older generations don’t understand.

“You comment on Instagram or Snap­chat and we look at that and say, ‘you guys don’t know how to interact,’ when in real­ity, you are having very meaningful con­versations that are impactful to you and having very relational activities through that medium,” Curtis said. “But because we don’t understand it very well, it some­how feels less.”

– Claire Fletcher