Put Down Your Phone, Pick up Your Creativity

Creativity may improve in people who let themselves be bored, rather than always reaching for a smartphone

Next time you’re in a long line, how about looking around you instead of at your smartphone? It might seem boring, but your brain may thank you.

A new project by New Tech City, a podcast from WNYC 93.9 FM, New York City’s public radio station, is aiming to encourage smartphone-loving listeners to give their brains a break.

"Bored and Brilliant," which starts Feb. 2, will partner with phone apps BreakFree and Moment, which measure cellphone usage, to provide a series of challenges to encourage those who sign up to "spend more time thinking creatively" by putting their phones away, according to the project’s website.

“I kind of realized that I have not been bored since I got a smartphone seven years ago,” said Manoush Zomorodi, host of New Tech City, in an interview with NPR.

According to Flurry, a marketing research firm, Americans spend almost three hours on their phones per day, which is a 9 percent increase from just nine months ago.

"The relationship between a baby and its teddy bear, or a baby and it’s binky, or a baby that wants its mother’s cradle when it’s done being held by a stranger-that’s the relationship between me and my phone," said one man interviewed by New Tech City.

Zomorodi is setting out to lead others to monitor their cellphone usage so that their brains can get the downtime needed to let the mind wander, which, according to research, may spur creativity.

Zomorodi was inspired by the research of Drs. Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman, psychologists at the University of Central Lancashire in the UK. In their study, participants who engaged in a boring task, like reading the phone book, were more creative afterward than those who went straight to a creative task without being bored first.

Those who are bored often look for something to stimulate them, which can boost creativity, according to the study, which was published in the April 2014 edition of the Creativity Research Journal. Even those who copied the phone numbers down instead of just reading them were not as inspired as the phone book readers, according to these researchers, because their brains were not truly free to roam.

In other words, cellphones may direct and guide users’ thoughts as they use apps, scroll through their Twitter feeds or read engaging content — which might limit their creativity.

And limiting cellphone use might have the opposite effect.

“We might go off in our heads to try and find that stimulation by our minds wandering, daydreaming and you start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, a little bit in the subconscious which allows sort of different connections to take place,” Dr. Mann told NPR.

Anyone can sign up for Bored and Brilliant through New Tech City’s website.