Does the iPhone kill creativity?

It feels good to be writing again. Earlier today, I was wondering why I ever stopped. The iPhone and iPad crossed my mind but I wasn’t quite sure how they related to my decreased creative impulse. I haven’t been lazy. Quite the opposite, I’ve been productivity obsessed. In the two years since I got my first iPhone and iPad, I’ve been busier, more productive and better informed that ever before.

In my small amount of free-time I have been Facebooking, tweeting, following RSS news feeds, setting up search builder alerts in library databases, blogging, and sharing links of interest to colleagues across the state. I have become ridiculously well-informed through the miracles of Twitter, Google Reader, Flipboard, Zite, Vodio and Instapaper. I’ve been gathering weblinks like a manic squirrel and stashing them in Evernote, Google Bookmarks, and various other digital hidey holes.

The trouble is, I haven’t been taking the time to process all of this information or wonder exactly what it is for.

The universe is often kind. I was pondering all of these things earlier today, wondering how they fit together and then I read Jay Fields’ LifeHacker post “Is Productivity Killing Your Creativity?”

Creativity requires downtime. Insights are created in the space between activities where seemingly unrelated events are casually examined and relationships are found. Fields, like me, loves his iPhone. The trouble is, the iPhone destroys downtime. The mind is hungry for information and the hand so easily reaches for the iPhone when standing in line, waiting for the bus, waiting for the kid to get dressed, whatever. The idea is that these moments between things used to be filled with free-ranging thoughts, which created the building blocks required to make new ideas. When the mind is always engaged in taking in new information, there is no time left to make anything happen with this information.

Fields writes:

I’m convinced that my iPhone was the root of my creativity issues. Life is full of ‘waiting time’ – waiting for the subway, waiting to see your doctor, waiting in the elevator, waiting in line at airport/grocery store/coffee shop, and waiting at the bar to meet your friends. Pre-iPhone I would spend this waiting time pondering anything that was troubling me. Now, I open Safari on my iPhone to see who is the latest injury on the FSU, or who’s tweeting about what (seems like it’s mostly sponsorship requests these days). I don’t spend that time thinking about anything, I spend that time reading – reading about things that have very little impact on my life, but seem to always more than fill my waiting time.

I’m not planning to surrender my iPhone, but I like Fields’ rather modest solution. He moved the attention-suckers to the second screen of his iPhone so that when he instinctively reached for the device, he had time to remind himself that he needs time to think. Fields also schedules “stare out the window time” into his day. Both of these are doable solutions.

I want to sustain habits that foster greater creativity. I still want to be ridiculously well-informed, but I need time to figure out how this information involves my life. I need time to do things with the stuff I learn.

Funny how the answers we need often arrive just when we need them. Or maybe, I’ve just slowed my mind down enough to create a relationship between two entirely unrelated events. Either way, I am feeling grateful.

Would the Buddha use an iPad?

Interesting fact about me: I follow dozens of blogs about iPad, iOS and other Apple accouterments and yet remain relatively uninformed about the actual workplace conditions of the factory workers in China who assemble these miracle devices. There have been many recent stories, of varying credibility, about the work conditions in Apple’s Chinese manufacturing units.

I hear stories about dust explosions, blindness and suicide nets. And yet, somehow, I never can find my way to read the entire story. I hear a whisper of something ill afoot and my mind grays out.

I don’t have this problem when reading about the latest iOS upgrade features, the comparison points of new iPad vs. iPad2 or keeping track of the best new free apps.

This is called practiced avoidance. Some call it compassion fatigue. It is, undoubtedly, a kind of moral disconnect.

And yet, I feel oddly relieved to read that the recent “This American Life” story about the deplorable conditions at FoxConn were made up. As if, somehow, I can simultaneously credit myself for being more informed about the working conditions of the people who make iStuff and yet also feel absolved of some of my own complicity in the horror since this one story wasn’t properly fact-checked.

I think Erik Sherman has this one right:

Too many people will use This American’s retraction to smooth over their momentary discomfort at using products that require harsh working conditions to maintain cheaper prices and corporate margins. But the problems remain — not just for iPads and iPhones, but also for all those Android devices, many TV sets, radios, GPS units, just about every other electronic wonder of modern life. Daisey’s reporting may be phony, but when you look at the bigger picture of most consumer electronics manufacturing, he was right. The biggest shame will be if people use this episode as an excuse to go happily back to dreamland.

He’s right. I’m not throwing away my iStuff, but I’ve got to sit with this one for a while. Everything and everyone is interconnected. That’s a Noble Truth. Suffering is inescapable and happens to everyone. That’s another Noble Truth. Attachments (like to iStuff) create suffering. Yet another Noble Truth.

I’m going to continue using my iStuff knowing that the creation process harms others and probably harms the environment. Where’s the mindfulness in that?

Would the Buddha use an iPad? I don’t know. Probably not. But if he did, he wouldn’t let himself pretend that his iPad appeared magically on a lotus petal one morning. That iPhone came from somewhere. Somebody made it. Making it might have cost them something. It might have cost them a lot. It almost certainly cost them more to make it than it does for me to use it.

Sit with that. That’s mindfulness for you.


How my iPhone helped a blind student

Here’s one of those small daily miracles that comes from having ubiquitous internet access in your pocket and ready for action.

A blind student came into the library today. He asked for someone patient to help him scan his chemistry lecture notes into Word using OCR so the text to speech reader could parse his instructor’s notes for him. We talked about this a bit, and I told him I thought we could help.

I quickly discovered that our lab scanner is not currently equipped with OCR capability. You scan a document and can only get JPG, TIFF and PNG files. No good for text to speech readers.

Turns out there isn’t a single public use OCR scanner at the entire college. That’s a problem I intend to fix pretty quick. In the meantime, this student was out of luck and his chemistry notes were inaccessible.

Then I remembered the document scanner app I recently downloaded onto my iPhone (ImagetoText). A 25 page document. I snapped a picture of each page with my phone, let the app translate the image into text and then emailed the file to myself so the txt file could be pasted into Word. Somewhat labor intense but worked pretty well. I was impressed by how well the text rendered. His notes are complete since the chemistry diagrams are non-textual but a pretty great solution in a pinch.

The trouble with iStuff

A few days ago, I wrote about my quite quotidian problem with iOS5. “My iOS5 Dilemna” was my most read to date, but I feel little embarrassed by it. I was already feeling embarrassed while I was writing it.

The word dilemna sounds like I can’t figure out how to solve this fairly mundane problem. I am grateful to my several friends who helpfully pointed out that I might resolve this entire situation with a second, bigger external hard drive. This is good, practical advice and I am grateful for their product recommendations.

As usual, my friend Daryl knew what I was writing about even before I did. Daryl pointed out that the trouble with iStuff is the need to sync them to a “real computer”. That’s what it comes down to. I love my iStuff: iPod, iPhone, iPad. I don’t mind playing around with iTunes and shoving files around from device to device.

I just don’t like having to maintain my laptop. Upgrading software, backing things up. There’s the weak link with iStuff. My iPod, iPhone and iPad are only as useful as my ability to keep my “real computer” up-to-date and performing well.

Writing and syncing my iStuff are pretty much the only two things I do with my laptop these days. Still, when my laptop runs up against a performance wall, my iStuff suffers.

That’s annoying.


More personal than underwear

A few days ago, my wife asked to borrow my iPhone. She was going on a short roadtrip and wasn’t exactly sure of the directions. We had printed out her MapQuest directions, but she thought the iPhone GPS would come in handy if she got in a pinch.

I balked.

Now, understand, I was pretty much planning on staying home and doing nothing particularly interesting. I can’t really offer any especially brilliant thing I was planning to actually do with my phone for the few hours she would be gone.

Still, I balked.

This is a person with whom I share bites of food, bed space and the occasional head cold. We are pretty close.

Still, I couldn’t quite hand the iPhone over.

There’s something especially personal for me about my phone. I’m not sure I totally understand the nature of the relationship.

Am I sick? Am I a bad husband? Or is lending my iPhone somewhat akin to lending someone my underwear?

Your comments welcome.