Thursday, April 8, 2010

Connectivity vs. Creativity

You’ve all seen it. You see it every day just walking down the street. In fact, it is very hard to avoid. I’m talking about people – usually younger people – talking on cell phones, or texting, or Twittering, or Facebooking, or fiddling with their iPods. Sometimes the perpetrator will be solo, walking, running, on the bus, yes evening driving. More and more I see these unabashed multitaskers in small groups like the three young men I saw the other day basking in each other’s company walking on a sidewalk while each was texting someone else. A pet peeve of mine is a couple obviously on a date where one (almost always the female) is rudely chatting or texting with someone else. Dudes wake up! Grow a pair and just stand up and walk out on all that.

I find it all very exhausting. And yes I know all about multitasking when warranted. By the way, for those of you technophiles out there, the term “multitasking” refers to a feature common in most computer operating systems (all except the new Apple iPad OS) to be able to process concurrent tasks. As a computer scientist, I can multitask with the best of ‘em. But enough is enough!

I don’t take exception to the rise in excessive connectedness for the negative social and interpersonal ramifications. On the contrary, I’m one of the most reclusive people I know. What I object to is the divergence in the level of creativity that results from over stimulation by an unparalleled abundance of devices that serve to distract you from just THINKING.

Try putting down that cell phone for just a minute and try to have an original thought. When it comes to mathematics and science, some quiet time provides an environment conducive for problem solving, and creativity. We might not have General Relativity if Einstein was constantly surfing the net while listening to an iPod and texting his co-workers at the patent office. There’s a place for everything, and modern devices are truly amazing, but can’t there be a limit to our dependence on them? Many people are significantly addicted to this constant stimulation. A 15-year old Bronx eighth grader who uses his smart phone to surf the web, watch videos, listen to music, and send or receive about 500 text a day says “I feel like my days would be boring without it.” Gasp! This is not good.

Social research studies have started to catch up with the rapid pace of electronic distractions and the trends are scary. Young people ages 8 to 18 spend more than 9 hours a day with such devices, compared with less than 6.5 hours five years ago. There’s also a correlation between screen time and obesity. In one study, the heaviest media users – those who consumed at least 16 hours a day – had mostly C’s or lower in school. It was these same people who reported that they were bored or sad, or that they got into trouble, and did not get along well with their parents and were not happy at school.

Parents really need to take a more assertive role in combating this effect, or our future Einstein’s may never materialize. The next time you’re out with the kids at a restaurant, and they are clicking away at something under the table, lay down the law and strike up a good science topic, please!

[Note: inset photo is the classic IBM “Think” slogan from the 60s that still has relevance today.]

1 comment:

  1. Daniel - I ran into one of the people you describe, literally ran into him. A mind is a terrible thing to waste. =Jo=


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