Like every teenager, Zach Veach, 15, uses a cellphone. But he’s an innovator, too. When a girl in his hometown killed because she sent text messages while driving, Zach decided to invent an anti-texting application.
“When you’re 16 and learning how to drive, you don’t need any distractions,” explains Zach, an auto racing driver from Ohio. He has designed an app that cellphone users can set to automatically respond to text messages. Drivers can set their message to say “Sorry, I’m driving. I’ll text you when I arrive.”
Unfortunately, creative children like Zach are becoming a rarity. For decades, the Torrance test has measured kids’ creativity in 50 countries. Since 1990, scores have been declining every year.
“There has been a sharp decrease in children’s ability to produce unique and unusual ideas,” says Kyung Hee Kim, professor of educational psychology at the College of William and Mary, who has analyzed 55 years of Torrance tests.
“Children are less intellectually curious and becoming less emotionally and verbally expressive.”
Schools take part of the blame for stressing rote learning over creative thinking, as do parents for allowing kids to stay too long in front of the screen.
“Children watch TV and play video games, which encourage limited thinking,” says Dale Grubb, professor of psychology at Baldwin-Wallace College. “This trend can lead to a dangerous innovation vacuum.”
Today’s passive children may be a harbinger of a global crisis. A recent study over 50 years shows that Torrance test results are the best prediction for accomplishment in adulthood.
For his part, Zach is already working on his next innovation: a cellphone app that blocks calls when the user is driving. Given that 28 per cent of U.S. highway accidents last year were caused by drivers using phones, Zach stands to become a successful and wealthy man.