Welcome to New Tech City's "Bored and Brilliant" project: Part 1, Introduction and Challenges 1-2
"What smartphones allow us to do is get rid of boredom in a very direct way because we can play games, phone people, we can check the Internet. It takes away the boredom, but it also denies us the chance to see and learn about where we truly are in terms of our goals."
-- Jonny Smallwood, professor of cognitive
neuroscience at the University of York
neuroscience at the University of York
Don't be overwhelmed. What I've gathered here is a week's worth of challenges in the project "Bored and Brilliant: The Lost Art of Spacing Out," presented by New Tech City, the Web project of NYC public-radio station WNYC, presided over by Manoush Zomorodi. I've been paying on-and-off attention all week, since the particular addiction at issue here, compulsive smartphone use, doesn't happen to be one of my addictions.
It's all explained in the introductory segment far better than I could try to re-explain it, so I'm not going to try. There are, in addition to the bare-bones challenges as I'm presenting them here, not only lotsa links onsite, but also a constellation of collateral supportive and amplifying posts. You are frequently exhorted to sign up and receive e-mails and goodness only knows what else. You can even "subscribe to the New Tech City podcast on iTunes, or on Stitcher, TuneIn, I Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed" -- and I don't even know what half of that means.
But you don't need any further guidance from me to check all of those out. Let me see . . . um, yes, right, check -- I think that's all I need to say, except that you'll find Challenges 1-2 in this post and Challenges 3-6 in the following post, at 3pm PT/6pm ET.
Introduction: The Case for Boredom
This episode kicks off the biggest project New Tech City has ever done: Bored and Brilliant. Our goal is to get you rethinking your relationship with technology. We've partnered with the apps Moment and BreakFree for a week of podcasts and challenges.
We would love to have you join us.
SIGN UP HERE
Here's the issue: It goes back to when Apple introduced the first iPhone in 2007 — that's less than a decade ago. Fifty-eight percent of American adults have a smartphone today. The average mobile consumer checks their device 150 times a day, and 67 percent of the time, that's not because it rang or vibrated. Forty-four percent of Americans have slept with their phone next to their beds.
Statistics aside, all you really have to do is go outside and see how many people can't even walk without staring at a screen. We counted them!
When we asked for your stories, many of you told us smartphones make you feel like you have the power to be connected all the time, organized beyond measure, and never, ever without entertainment while you're waiting for coffee. But you've also told us they make you feel dependent, exhausted, and addicted — some of you say you're actually relieved when you lose or break your phones for a day.
There's a paradox here. But one thing is clear: Paying attention to our smartphones through so many of our waking moments means our minds don't spend as much time idling.
And that matters! We talked to boredom researcher Sandi Mann of the University of Lancashire of the U.K.
"You come up with really great stuff when you don’t have that easy lazy junk food diet of the phone to scroll all the time," says Sandi Mann.Mann's research finds that idle minds lead to reflective, often creative thoughts (we discuss her projects in depth in this week's show). Minds need to wander to reach their full potential.
During bouts of boredom our brains can't help but jump around in time, analyzing and re-analyzing the pieces of our lives, says Jonny Smallwood, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of York in the UK. He says inspiration strikes in the shower because it's a moment when we're not really looking at or focusing on anything else.
Researchers have only really started to understand the phenomena of "mind-wandering" — the activity our brains engage in when we're doing nothing at all — over the past decade or so.
"There’s a close link between originality, novelty, and creativity... and these sort of spontaneous thoughts that we generate when our minds are idle," Smallwood said.But when mental stimulation is a touch of the phone away?
"That’s where daydreaming and boredom intersect," Smallwood says. "What smartphones allow us to do is get rid of boredom in a very direct way because we can play games, phone people, we can check the Internet. It takes away the boredom, but it also denies us the chance to see and learn about where we truly are in terms of our goals."
And that's where Bored and Brilliant comes in. Let's do it together. Sign up here.
Challenge 1: Keep It in Your Pocket
Your instructions: As you move from place to place, keep your phone in your pocket, out of your direct line of sight. Better yet, keep it in your bag.
While you're boarding the train, walking down the sidewalk, or sitting in the passenger seat of a car, we're asking you to look at your phone only when you have reached your destination. You can do it [link = "18 Places Where You Can Survive Without Your Phone"].
And when you do pick up your phone today: Here are five basic phone hygiene tips to make that screen time really count. They come from the mind of Dr. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of The Distraction Addiction
Phone Freedom 101
[Read about the "basic phone hygiene tips" onsite. -- Ed.]
1. Remember to breathe.
2. Turn off non-vital notifications.
3. Make sure you do get the notifications that matter to you.
4. Fight "phantom phone syndrome:" Practice not answering messages right away.
5. Carry your phone in a bag, rather than in your pocket or in your hand (this one's extra credit!)
Challenge 2: Phone-Free Day
Your instructions: See the world through your eyes, not your screen. Take absolutely no pictures today. Not of your lunch, not of your children, not of your cubicle mate, not of the beautiful sunset. No picture messages. No cat pics.
We want you to start actually seeing that phone-free world around you. A recent study found Americans take more than 10 billion photos every month, and mostly on our phones. The thing is, each time we snap a quick pic of something, it could be harming our memory of it. This podcast is about psychology, creativity, and perception.
Meet the man who inspired it here:
[Watch the video onsite.]
"They’re not even looking at the painting sometimes, they’re scrolling; they’re just scrolling away, looking at their phones... They’ll say I was checking and you can tell when they’re taking photos."
— Greg Colon, security guard at NYC's Guggenheim Museum
COMING UP: "Bored and Brilliant" Challenges 4-6