Arment Dietrich

Are Digital Devices Making Us Less Creative?

By: Arment Dietrich | August 29, 2010 | 

In a follow-up to Gini Dietrich’s video post discussing Angelica Colantuoni’s idea of “unplugging,” I thought this article from the New York Times, “Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime”, related.  It doesn’t exactly highlight the dangers of digital devices but describes how they are altering our thinking and lessening our ability to brainstorm and be creative.

Our brains need downtime; we need to digest information in order to think more strategically.  Maybe this is why billionaire and new owner of the New Jersey Nets, Mikhail Prokhorov, is able to run such a successful business.  He doesn’t own a cell phone and claims to rarely use a computer.  “I don’t use a computer. We have too much information and it’s really impossible to filter it,” Mikhail tells 60 Minutes.

But I don’t know if I remember what real downtime feels like.  While waiting for the subway I check my emails to kill time and to go to sleep at night I play on my iTouch, in fact, that’s how I found this article, reading the New York Times at 1 a.m. from my digital device in bed.

With the idea that there is really no such thing as multitasking, just having the ability to master the art of scanning, what are digital devices doing to improve our brains and how are these technologies helping the thought processes of new generations?

  • Interesting questions here…

    Advances in technology gives us the capability to showcase our creativity, but they don’t make us more creative.

    I do see how technology can kill creativity though. As Prokhorov said, there’s so much information out there; it can paralyze us and make us unable to do anything productive. And we can always hide behind multitasking while accomplishing nothing.

    It comes down to discipline. Can we use technology in an intelligent and efficient manner to accomplish tasks, or will we use it to waste time and zap all creativity and productivity?

  • Molli – the concept of “downtime” for me has really changed over the past year or so. Because we can access our entire lives with a couple apps on our smart phones, we never really do disconnect. This was especially true last month when I was on a Caribbean cruise. My sister is a schoolteacher with summers off, for her the idea of checking email during “vacation” is absurd. And with an internet connection at $8 a minute, I had to agree. But I was expecting some pretty big news back at the office. Nothing that I had to respond to just wanted to know what was happening. So Sister Friend and I made a deal, 15 minutes at the end of the day UNTIL I heard the news and then no more logging in. That was doable for me — I knew things were being handled in my absence and I could stil feel “connected” without being responsible. All good.

    Now as for Mikhail not using a cellphone or computer and running a successful business, I’d like to talk to the people around him. My guess is he is just as connected but has lots of people monitoring it for him.

    Someday ….

    • He does in fact have people giving him information, but that is the key. Without having to sort through it all, he is giving himself time to digest and think about the information at hand.

      It’s not about not receiving news, its more about the way we process it. Allowing time, or scanning through the next article.

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  • Thanks for sharing the article, Molli!!

    Not sure I believe that Mikhail Prokhorov is totally unplugged because he doesn’t have a cell phone. I think Abbie is right – he probably has staff that keeps him looped in all the time.

    Checking my email, twitter, facebook, etc. does make the time go by faster when I’m on the train, waiting in line and when I’m working out but I do feel like it takes its toll. I’m not as impatient or irritated if there’s a delay but I’m certainly exhausted by the time I get home.

    What happened to the idea of “daydreaming?” How will the next generation be taught creativity and how to daydream? They will probably have an app that does that for them.

    • HAHAHA! You’re right! I do seem to daydream less now that I have all these technology toys. Maybe it should be taught in school? Instead of creative writing classes there should be mandatory creative thinking courses.

  • Right?!?! I used to daydream all the time and now all I do is try to read what everyone else is thinking about!

    I think creative thinking courses would be awesome!

    • We should start a pact and make ourselves daydream at least once a week for an hour.

      Anyone else in?

  • Love that idea! “Dare to Daydream” once a week.

  • Technology has and continues to open new doors and opportunities. But as with most things in life it is important to strike a balance. To cultivate creativity we must still challenge ourselves to activities that force us to think or create on our own and enable us to dabble in different interests.


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