I recently read Clive Thompson’s Smarter Than You Think. One of my most important reads of 2013, it offers a compelling argument for the idea that technology is making us smarter and more productive.
The book raises the concept of cognitive diversity. This is the idea that certain ideas have the potential to develop more effectively when allowed to slow bake in a new space and context.
In reference to editing in the old days before the word processor, Thompson cites the literal cutting and pasting of paper and words as a potentially stimulating process.
Shuffling paragraphs could spark new connections and ideas; plus, working in such a forcibly slow fashion can push your brain into connective, dreamy modes. This is precisely why it’s still a good idea, even today, to step away from your laptop and work out a problem on paper: cognitive diversity, again.
While I question how realistically we can disconnect, the case is made at several points.
To maintain cognitive diversity, we have to step away from the screen to immerse ourselves in the slower-paced pleasures of nature, books, and “offline” conversation and art.
Thompson brings a realistic sense of balance to Smarter Than You Think. While optimistic about the role of technology in improving how we think, he recognizes the role of analog tools in triggering creative thought.
While I have traditionally worked on a screen, I’ve recently begun thinking through problems in a bound notebook (Moleskine Journal, Evernote edition) using my favorite broad gel pen (Uni-Ball Signio bold 207). Thinking and opening up with a new medium clearly has helped me break through the impasse that can happen with a blank screen. And flipping back to my old thinking has had some interesting effects. What’s remarkable is that I’ve done this with patients for years, but never for myself.
Pick up a copy of Smarter Than You Think. It’s an amazing read. If you want to hear more about how Clive Thompson applies cognitive diversity in his workflow, you might check out this recent Lifehacker interview.
Links to Amazon are affiliate links.