By Virginia Foster
Senior Staff Writer
Walking around campus, students are fixed deep into conversations, hardly taking a second to glance up and see if a door is open or sidewalk is clear. However, they aren’t talking to one another, at least not in person. Cell phones and social media have become more than a means of communication, it is now a psychological crutch for some.
“I see it as a pathetic escape from awkwardness sometimes. Some people will be around people they don’t like and they just whip their phone out,” said Jalen Harrell, TJC game and simulation major.
This is why WNYC, a popular New York public radio station, has launched a new campaign called Bored and Brilliant…the lost art of spacing out. This is an online and podcast campaign that asks people to monitor their cell phone use and consciously try to change their habits while doing so.
“I think that they are aware of how long they have been on their phone when something draws their attention to how long they have been on their phone (i.e. another person, attendance bell, etc.) Norms governing interaction with new forms of technology are always being constructed/ adapted through the process of socialization,” said Ryan Button, TJC sociology professor.
Button said that social media engages us in a form of self-serving, instantly gratifying interaction with others and in a very real way ourselves. That we have become an on-demand society. We stopped allowing the space for thought and experimentation, thinking and processing – instead we demand instant gratification, answers and solutions, without acknowledging the time it takes to understand the complexity of the problems or issues we face. This limits our ability to truly understand the complexity of problems as our attention is focused on the simplicity of the greatest reward possible for the least amount of effort.
The Bored and Brilliant study all started when Manoush Zomorodi, the host of WNYC’s podcast New Tech City, realized she hadn’t truly been bored since getting a smart phone seven years ago. This is when she began questioning the consequences of not allowing herself to space out.
She asked neuroscientists if not giving your mind a break during the day could be damaging, and the answer is yes. There is potential damage for never letting your mind wander.
Neuroscientists told Zomorodi that when people are bored is when they do their most creative thinking and problem solving.
“We had numerous college students get in touch – one in particular who talked about how stunned she was that she was understanding so much more about her schoolwork. That makes a lot of sense from what scientists understand at this point,” said Zambrodi, “You have to synthesize information after you’ve learned it, too. Immersing yourself in your phone the second class ends means you’re not giving yourself a chance to fully absorb what you’ve learned.”
To track how often people use their cell phones, New Tech City has joined forces with two apps, Moment for iPhone users and BreakFree for Android. These apps monitor how and when people use their phones throughout the day. More than 15,000 people have signed up already.
Zomorodi said that her Bored and Brilliant campaign is not the eliminate cell phone use altogether, but simply learn how to healthily live with it, so what better tool to use in this campaign than the cell phone itself.
““I think Bored and Brilliant is important for everybody, and definitely for young adults and college students. You have to build in reflective moments when you’re deciding how to use your technology,” said Zambrodi, “It’s a time when you should be going for long walks and spacing out and doing what neuroscientists call ‘autobiographical planning’ – figuring out what you want your life to look like, who you want to be.”
For those who wish to participate, the apps Moment and BreakFree have free versions in the app store. Also, you can listen to Zomorodi’s podcast New Tech City and sign up for newsletters at www.wync.org.