As a professor at a rigorous university, I’ve seen a trend over the last decade that troubles me. My students (as bright and hardworking as they are) are less creative. Each incoming class seems to have a more difficult time coming up with ideas to write about; they are generally less willing to engage in class discussions, simply because they feel that they don’t have anything to contribute. They lack the imagination it takes to cross-pollinate concepts from different disciplines—a skill that is a necessary problem-solving skill.
The answer as to why this is happening is found in the pages of Bored and Brilliant, a book by Manoush Zomorodi (the host of WNYC’s podcast Note to Self). In short, “brilliance” is slow. It requires the student—or any of us, for that matter—to slow thought processes down by minimizing and managing cognitive data intake. According to Zomorodi, if you think “fast” all the time, then your neuroplasticity is disrupted: you’re less able to simply gaze out the window and wait for answers to problems to present themselves.
Zomorodi connects the lack of brilliance to the upsurge in technology. She’s not anti-technology; she simply suggests that we use it more judiciously, suggesting that we engage in what she phrases as “contemplative computing.” Can you benefit from digital devices? You bet—just don’t let them disable your ability to sit own for a sustained period of time and read a good book.