What would life be like if you used your phone a little less? Would you be bored? Brilliant? That’s the question posed by the podcasters at New Tech City in their Bored and Brilliant project, subtitled “The Lost Art of Spacing Out.”
The podcast suggests that we have a need for boredom—a quiet space for our brains to work. Does this sound familiar? Since the early 20th century, creativity scholars have examined the role of incubation on creativity. Incubation is thought of as that quiet mental space in which ideas emerge. How many of us have found a new idea while showering, running, or doing anything else in which our mind is not engaged at warp speed? There are disagreements about how incubation works, but not much doubt that many people have had that experience.
I thing the Bored and Brilliant folks may have been exploring the same phenomenon. Our campus looks like this. A lot. When we are constantly interacting with our phones, we have no time to interact with our own thoughts—or to engage in the active exploration of the world that is such an important part of problem finding.
The Bored and Brilliant project had participants use an app (naturally!) to chart phone usage for two weeks, one normal week and one week with suggested challenges to cut down phone time. These included things like keeping the phone in a pocket or bag rather than in your hand—with suggestions for managing the associated anxiety, and deleting that one game app that eats your life. I especially like the way the challenges suggest you go out and observe the world, particularly all the things you might have missed with eyes on a screen. By Day 6 they offer a creative challenge.
Did the challenges make a big difference in phone time? As I’m writing this all the data aren’t yet in (at least that I can find) but NPR’s All Tech Considered folks didn’t find the challenge made a big difference in their phone time—just ten minutes on average. And yet, might ten minutes matter? Just ten minutes of space in which to think? Or might the very idea of giving your thoughts some space cause you to approach the rest of your non-screen life a bit differently? I’m not sure, but it seems worth trying.
Because the Bored and Brilliant challenges are all online, you can try them any time—or share them with a class, or your favorite phone-obsessed young person. You might find space for more creativity in your life, or theirs.