There’s a stereotype at the Missouri School of Journalism- everyone will show up to class with a Macbook in one hand and a Starbucks coffee in another.
Like some stereotypes, this one has its roots in truth. Look around a journalism class, and you’ll see at least half the students with their iced caramel lattes, typing away furiously on their Macbook Pro in a race against time to complete the demanding in-class assignments. I’m not sure whether this has more to do with the fact that Starbucks is conveniently located directly across the street, or whether journalism kids actually have a caffeine dependency, but one thing is agreed on: Many of the students believe that caffeine fuels their creativity, and they can’t survive their major without it.
I’m one of those students. Many of our assignments demand creativity, in tandem with technical perfection, and all of them have tight deadlines. It’s not uncommon to be asked to complete a 1,000 word press release in under an hour, and when the pressure is on, a boost of caffeine can make me feel ready to attack. But to what extent is this real, or a Placebo effect? Does my daily cup of energy actually help my creativity, or do I just need the confidence boost? And does it ever make me counterproductive?
A New Yorker article called “How Caffeine Can Cramp Your Creativity” from one side of the debate offers the opinion that caffeine actually harms our creativity. This side opines that caffeine makes us focus more, giving us more of a “worker bee” mentality and less out-of-box thinking that creativity requires. Most importantly, it hinders our ability to let our minds wander:
“Still, we do know that much of what we associate with creativity—whether writing a sonnet or a mathematical proof—has to do with the ability to link ideas, entities, and concepts in novel ways. This ability depends in part on the very thing that caffeine seeks to prevent: a wandering, unfocussed mind.”
As the article goes on to say, “Creative insights and imaginative solutions often occur when we stop working on a particular problem and let our mind move on to something unrelated.” I’ve seen this in the readings I’ve done for creativity class- we do some of our best creative thinking in the shower.
But you know what? We also need to get out of the shower and put those ideas into action, and that’s where caffeine helps us.
Another article from the Atlantic argued in response that caffeine helps us be more creative, by virtue of allowing ourselves to be creative:
“As someone who works with a lot of self-described creative types, my experience is that the most common barriers to creating are initiative, commitment, and self-doubt. Caffeine helps with all three of those.”
And it’s true– caffeine helps me overcome some of the fear and panic that stops me from writing, and this is what gets me through those terrifying, timed journalism assignments.
So the verdict? It looks like my morning iced coffee is here to stay, if for no other reason but to walk into class feeling ready to ace my PR projects! The important part will be learning to have that confidence boost on my own, without the Starbucks.