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Is Your Smart Phone Stealing Your Creativity?

Unlock Your Creativity Using Secondary Dream Time

Self-made, based on Aiga's icons, Author Abu Badly
Source: Self-made, based on Aiga's icons, Author Abu Badly

Smart phones are everywhere, our icons of modern connectivity. Wherever we look people are studying brightly lit screens, constantly checking their social media and emails. Like bugs on a summer night, hurling themselves at an irresistible siren lightbulb.

But are smart phones ultimately helping us or hurting us?

Some of their capabilities are nothing short of astonishing. Many years ago, I saw one of the earliest computers at The RAND Corporation. It used vacuum tubes and took up more space than my entire house and front yard. But today my smart phone is considerably faster than that early computer, has vastly more memory, and fits in my shirt pocket!

A screenwriter friend recently told me that, thanks to new software programs, he can produce an entire full-length movie on his smart phone! With the software available, he can write, direct, film, edit, compose the music, and lay in the music and sound effects for a film. All with his phone!

So, smart phones have amazing capabilities. But there is also another side to them.

A recent study of 800 phone users at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business showed that the mere presence or proximity of a smart phone has the effect of reducing a person’s cognitive capacity even when the phone is turned off.

“A smart phone is a brain drain,” said Assistant Professor Adrian Ward.

And at the University of Essex in the U K, researchers Andrew K. Prybylski and Netta Weinstein, were interested in exploring the effect of smart phones on personal relationships. They set up a series of experiments with pairs of strangers in different situations, with a variety of different assigned conversation topics. Sometimes there was a phone present and visible; sometimes not.

Afterwards each participant answered a questionnaire about the experience she had just had. How had the presence or absence of a phone affected a relationship?

The results of the questionnaires showed that participants felt less trust, empathy and connectedness when there was a smart phone nearby, even when nobody used it or looked at it!

Conversely, the participants commented that they felt much greater trust, connectedness and empathy when there was no smart phone in view.

So, in both these areas, cognitive capacity and personal relationships, smart phones have been shown to have a negative effect.

What about creativity?

Creative ideas almost always arrive in surprising and unexpected ways. Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury once observed that “Ideas are like cats. You can’t call them up. If they come, it’s because it’s their choice. Not yours.”

Stories abound about the unlikely ways creative people have gotten their signature ideas. A common element of creativity stories is that the idea came during a relaxed, leisure moment, when the mind was unfocused and available to the gifts of the unconscious.

I call this state Secondary Dream Time.

A good example of how Secondary Dream Time works comes from the life of the American physicist Donald Glaser.

In the fifties, Glaser was involved in the study of high-energy particles. Slower-moving subatomic particles could be tracked in the Wilson Cloud Chamber, but the newly developed high-energy accelerators unleashed particles moving more than 1000 times faster. There seemed to be no way to study them or to track their movement. Glaser tried everything, but kept running into a dead end. It seemed impossible.

Then one day at a leisurely lunch, he noticed the bubbles rising in a glass of beer. It started him thinking. Could it be possible to track super high-energy particles in some kind of liquid using bubbles?

He began a new series of experiments that led to his development of the now famous Bubble Chamber. That opened up vast new possibilities for research and led to a Nobel Prize for Glaser.

And it all came from a leisure moment when Glaser was in Secondary Dream Time.

The way in which most people today use smart phones, constantly checking emails, and ceaselessly scrolling through social media, means there’s much less time for unfocused, leisure moments.

With typical smart phone activity, there’s much less unfocused time, available for Secondary Dream Time and the creativity it can bring.

So, here are three suggestions to help you regain your Secondary Dream Time:

• Take a “Sabbath” day once a week from all your electronic devices. Turn them off, especially your smart phone! Re-claim your life! If you’re like most people today, you’re not really running your life. Your smart phone is! Turn your phone off one day a week and take back your life.

• On other days, don’t constantly check your phone to monitor the continual stream of emails that is always coming in. Work out two specific times during every day to check your various phone messages. Just two times. Don’t look at your phone any other time! (This is sort of like “smart phone tough love.”)

• Once you have started with the first two rules, the “Sabbath” and the daily schedule, and gotten used to the rhythm of living with them, relax into an attitude of Creative Expectation. You have tilled the soil and planted the seeds for a bountiful harvest. Expect it and be thankful.

And once you have opened your life, thought and schedule to Secondary Dream Time, you will be amazed at how much more creative you will be!

David Evans