I stumbled onto Coffitivity via a mention in a Codeacademy email, and although I went there to check out the design, I quickly stayed because of the interesting concept. Coffitivity is a website (and app) that plays background “coffee-shop” conversational noise at low levels. The thinking behind the site is that creativity is higher in environments of moderate noise than it is in quiet or very noisy environments. So with this site, you can put on your earphones, generate some “Morning Murmur,” and be more creative at work or school.
The site itself links to a peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Consumer Research, in which groups of participants performed some creativity related tasks in environments with varying levels of background noise. Their conclusion: “A moderate level of noise not only enhances creative production, but also leads to greater adoption of innovative products.”
Walk with me for a minute here and consider some of the implications. The immediate question that comes to mind is that we assume in many circumstances that classrooms and libraries should be quiet in order to allow people to concentrate on the task at hand. But what if that’s not true? What if a range of mental tasks benefit from ambient noise? Perhaps silence, the holy grail of concentration, is counter-productive?
Another connection here is sports. It’s always fascinated me that most sports are played in noisy and sometimes abusive environments, but then there’s golf and tennis. With these two sports, there is an expectation of silence from spectators. Clearly huge spikes in noise can be distracting, but how is it that baseball players can concentrate just fine on 100-mph fastballs zipping inches away from their heads while golfers require absolute silence to hit a still ball on the ground?
We need more research, of course, and basing widespread change in ambient noise levels for wide ranges of activities based on one study that focused solely on creativity would be downright silly. But it does make one wonder that perhaps we’ve still got a lot to learn when we ask classrooms of students to be quiet. And I’ll be giving Coffitivity a try for a couple of weeks to see what happens.
(And yes, this article was written under the influence of Coffitivity.)