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February 06, 2013 - Image 10

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The Michigan Daily, 2013-02-06

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the detroit issue by the statement staff the science of it all: more than caffeine by jenniferxu

Detroit. For many students and faculty on campus, the
city only forty minutes to the east remains an after-
thought. We've seen the pictures and heard the news de-
scribing how the city has crumbled. But this issue of The
Statement isn't showing the struggles of Detroit, which
are known too well. Instead, we want to show the culture
rising in the city. CriticCar Detroit and The Heidelberg
Project are just two examples of the creativity that is
emerging in the city's communities. By adding color to
the gray and a voice to the people, these projects bring
the city alive - a city many people on campus call home.
The people of Detroit are working to make something out
of what many consider nothing.

My friend claims she can't get
any work done unless she's sitting
in a coffee shop with a latte in one
hand and acopyofBorges in another.
Aspects I write off as distractions -
the whirr of the espresso machine,
the attractive barista at the counter,
the gaggle of girls dissecting last
night's exploits at Skeeps - seem
to fuel her productivity level rather
than stymie it.
She's clearly not alone. J.K. Row-
ling wrote the first draft of "Harry
Potter" on a cafe napkin. in the
acknowledgements of his book
"Blink," Malcolm Gladwell thanked
the staff of the Savoy restaurant in
Soho. And while there's no definitive
answer as to why coffee shops have
become such hubs of productivity, a
couple hypotheses have been raised.
They impose restrictions on
time. You know how it goes: you
open up the entire day to finish that
15-page paper. Eight hours and hun-
dreds of tossed Angry Birds later,
you find you've only drafted an out-
line and a hastily constructed thesis
statement.
The philosophy goes that when we
have wide expanses of time with one
task to do, we tend to waste them.
But when hours are restricted, we
just suck it up and do ourwork. This
way of thinking has been incorpo-
rated into a 1980's time-management
method called the Pomodoro tech-
nique. Meant to maximize efficiency
and preserve focus for long periods
of time, the Pomodoro technique is
pretty simple: You work for 25 min-
utes and take a break for five min-
utes, cycling through four of these
iterations before taking a longer,
20-minute break.
The coffee shop can act as a sort
of real-life Pomodoro timer. And
whether it's because our batteries are"
dying or the counter is closing in 45
minutes, restricting the time we're
allowed to work can significantly

increase our efficiency.
other people scare you into
being productive. Coffee shops are
notoriously open places. You can see

be used for evil - such as bystander.
apathy - but it can also be used for
good, like finally finishing up those
PoliSci readings.
They provide the optimal level

of noise. Close your eyes and visual-
C 00 00 0ize a bustling coffee shop. What do
you hear? People chattering? Synthy
background music? The comforting
grind of coffee beans?
' ,t, According to a study published in
the Journal of Consumer Research,
we're at our most creative when sub-

J
y
,

.} _

exactly what everyone else is doing
from any part of the room. We gaze
enviously at the lines of text that
cover our neighbor's laptop screen,
knowingthe same neighbor is watch-
ing us, being demonstrably less pro-
ductive as we Gehat a friend about
whether to get Thai food tomorrow.
By the power of peer pressure, the
stranger's gaze drives us to shut off
our WiFi and get to work.
This is a classic example of Asch
conformity. In a series of experi-
ments, Solomon Asch demonstrated
that he could get people to select the
wrong answer to very simple ques-
tions if they thought their neighbors
were selecting the same thing. Asch
conformity bolstered the idea that
neighbors could mutually intimidate
each other into doingsomethingthey
wouldn't.ordinarily do alone. It can

.

jected to a moderate level of ambient
noise. In aseries of experiments, sub-
jects were exposed a range of sounds
from50 to 85 decibels and then asked
to engage in a creative task, such as
brainstorming new ideas for a new
type of mattress. Those exposed to
mid-level ambient noise - at around
70 dB - were found to come up with
more creative solutions.
The researchers hypothesize
that the noise induces kinks into
the brain's processing mechanism,
which impairs our ability to fixate
on one task. Interestingly, it's this
impairment that allows.us to think
more creatively. A noisy environment
can disrupt our normal way of think-
ing and activate the sort of abstract
cognition that comprises real cre-
ativity. Coffee shops, according to
the researchers, are something like
the Goldilocks of ambient noise - not
too loud, not too silent, butjust right.

PHOTOS BY MARLENE LACASSE,
NATASHA JANARADAN, and ERIN KIRKLAND/Daily

ERIN KIRKLAND

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