Christopher Nolan may be known for incredibly high-tech films – he directed The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception and most recently, the sweeping space saga Interstellar – but in his personal life, the 44-year-old filmmaker eschews technological distractions.
"I’ve never used email because I don’t find it would help me with anything I’m doing. I just couldn’t be bothered about it," he tells The Hollywood Reporter, adding that he doesn't own a cell phone because "it gives me time to think."
Of course, Nolan's ability to remain untethered from an email account and a cell phone is luxury made possible by his status as a Very Important Person. He doesn't need to deal with either distraction, presumably because he has underlings who respond to email requests and take calls for him. Nolan alludes to this, telling THR that because he's on shoots all the time "I'm never two feet from a cell phone… I never bothered to get one and I’ve been very fortunate to be working continuously, so there’s always someone around me who can tap me on the shoulder and hand me a phone if they need to."
For those of us who lack a similar support system to handle our communications, Nolan's 'no email, no cell phone' policy is unrealistic at best. But despite this hulking caveat, Nolan's insistence that not owning a cellphone "gives him time to think" raises an important issue about the potential negative consequences smartphones can have on the creative process.
"You know, when you have a smartphone and you have 10 minutes to spare, you go on it and you start looking at stuff," Nolan told THR, justifying his choice to live without one.
What he's getting at is that smartphones enable us to fill every second of downtime, be it by answering emails, surfing the web, checking social media, playing a game etc, etc. They have essentially killed boredom. This, on the surface, sounds great. But what if when you kill boredom, you also kill creativity?
Research has shown that not only does mind wandering encourage creative connections and new solutions – the very activity surfing our smartphones eliminates – but a certain level of passive boredom (the type incited by reading a particularly dense text or attending a monotonous meeting) often leads to fresh perspectives and new approaches to problems.
“In a very deep way there’s a close link between originality, novelty, and creativity and these sort of spontaneous thoughts that we generate when our minds are idle,” Jonathan Smallwood, a cognitive neuroscientist, recently told Quartz.
All of which is to say that while most of us can't pull a Nolan and ditch the smartphone altogether, courting boredom can be beneficial. The next time you find yourself with 10 minutes of downtime, don't reach for the phone. Instead, see where your mind takes you when you allow it to wander.