I stood in line today at Starbucks, and most people stood staring at their phones. I get that. It sucks to be in line, but most of us are pretty patient — even the instant-gratification millennials that we are. It would seem like a good time to check your email, Twitter, Facebook and maybe even bank accounts. I wonder what we miss though.
I don’t like staring at the wall or my watch either, especially since the second hand freaks me out, yet we leave this world and enter a digital one when we absorb ourselves into this technology.
I believe that we miss out on the pain of waiting in line. I know that sounds almost masochistic, but it really does suck to wait in line. We avoid that be leaving reality and entering an alternate and digital one. When I was a young lad, my mom had me wait in line at the deli to have our meats sliced (my pre-vegetarian days).
I didn’t have a phone and always forgot to bring something to read. I learned two things by doing that every Saturday: 1. It goes faster when you don’t think about being in line (don’t think about the white bear!) and 2. Use your imagination.
Granted, this is not to suggest or harp to harshly on how you cannot be creative or imaginative with your smartphones’ apps, but how many people do you see doodling or coming up with goals or short stories and writing them down?
I see most people doing the expected, which are checking Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, sending texts, or browsing their playlists on Spotify. None of those things are bad, but I think we lose our creativity slowly and over an extended period of time. I guess that eventually, our imagination would be subverted more frequently for a salient need of an alternate reality to be unimaginative in.
Imagination is different from list making in our heads or even worrying. Imagination is the original gangster of spacing out. When we touch or swipe our phones, we neither think nor imagine — it’s more like reacting to simple stimuli. If a person falls outside of the Hans, and it’s not recorded and shared via social media, did it really happen?
Imagination is when you don’t realize you were in Spain in your brain until you snap out of it by some sort of external stimulus — say a professor who throws chalk at you or shoots you with a Nerf gun.
I think we’ve replaced imagination with “Angry Birds,” and we’ve replaced our minds making short fictions with watching “Charlie Bit Me” on YouTube. But what does it matter?! We’re just in line at Starbucks, after all! Again, I think continued lack of use of our imaginations leads to a sort of repressed and underutilized outlet.
Do you think inventors and novelists and poets and CEOs even were on their phones looking for ideas? No, their heads were in la-la land. If Einstein were here, would he be playing “Temple Run” on his iPhone? Probably not. Although, I could see him beating “Temple Run” if he was asked to.
What’s the moral here? Well, there isn’t one, because it’s not unethical to stare at your phone at dull moments. It’s O.K. With that being said, if you care about the romantic notions of creativity and innovation, you’re not going to find it playing “2048.”
You’re going to find that invention or that unconscious level of understanding when you do nothing in a dull moment, and just let your mind be. It’ll probably happen when you’re standing in line, waiting for a soy latte.
Benjamin Sylvester is the president of the Drexel Animal Welfare Group. He can be contacted at [email protected]. “Mull On That” publishes biweekly.