Living in a Draft and boxing onADAM ROBERTS
With our brains wired into digital systems and our lives mediated by electronic networks and services, our thoughts can sometimes feel like they travel along virtual tracks.
In 1984, Russian (then-Soviet Union) programmer Alexey Pajitnov released a new game from behind the Iron Curtain, a game that ended up being released on nearly every video-game console ever since - most famously the Nintendo Game Boy. It was called Tetris. You might have heard of it.
The game involved falling blocks - tetrominoes - that could be fitted together to form horizontal lines that would then disappear, and give points.
It turns out this simple game is incredibly addictive, with an ability to absorb that borders on hypnosis.
Play Tetris for a long time, then stop, and you might find yourself unable to stop thinking of falling blocks.
You'll start looking at the world and trying to fit the shapes of objects, like buildings or posters, together in a similar way to the game.
Drifting off to sleep, you might find yourself picturing Tetris games, imagining situations that you can solve - in my case, usually using the 4-block long shape.
This is an actual psychological effect or syndrome, called the Tetris effect.
It happens whenever the brain is engaged in a repetitive mental task, particularly something spatial.
It's along the lines of getting a song stuck in your head - and as someone who has spent half the year humming Carly Rae Jepsen's Call Me Maybe, I can relate to that.
This can happen with other simple and monotonous video games too.
Play Bejeweled for long enough, and you'll find yourself picturing complicated arrangements of jewels, then moving one of the objects to start a massive chain-reaction.
Play a tower defence-style game all afternoon and you'll spend the last few minutes of your day picturing a digital army trying to break through carefully positioned defences.
But it's not just video games and the spatial side of the brain.
Lately I've noticed my brain's language and speech centres corralled into similar repetitive tasks.
In a world where we communicate using services that reward pithy, short posts, I've started to find myself thinking in status-updates.
Every now and then I'll find myself mentally summarising a situation in the third-person, or altering something I've just said to someone in the real-world to fit into a 140-character tweet.
Often the only solution is to write out what your brain is churning on: even if you don't use it later, at least you won't be thinking about it.
Lately I've been using an iPhone app called Drafts to do this.
The app, available for $2.59, is simple: open it up to see a screen with a blank note, the cursor blinking and keyboard ready, waiting for you to disgorge whatever witticism you have on your mind.
Where the text will go is up to you.
Once you've finished writing, you can click the "share" button and pick from a host of other services or apps like email, Evernote, or, yes, Twitter.
It's the fastest way to get whatever is in your head out. The app saves all your notes, meaning you don't need to do anything with the text straight away, if you're not sure where it needs to go. I've managed to clear my head using this app many times, putting column ideas, reminders, tweets, and emails into the system.
This column was actually the result of a Tetris-effect-like experience.
One night last week I was sick and feverish with the flu, and was sent to bed early by my girlfriend.
Unable to sleep, I found myself writhing around the bed, my mind for some reason churning away on the first few lines of this.
I was pretty confident I would remember the theme, but after what seemed like an hour of the first few lines going around in my head, I decided to write them down.
I fired up Drafts and tapped out the first few paragraphs. With my glasses off and my poor eyesight I had to have the phone right up to my face to read the screen, so if anyone had walked in and seen me I would have looked like an insane, sick person. Certainly someone suffering from the Tetris syndrome, as well as the obvious other sickness.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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