Whether working in visual innovation or merely acting as a reporter, I’ve made a career out of diving headfirst into ideas that I know nothing about.
The fresher, more complex the puzzle to be solved, the more I dig into it, going from unknown to known. And if I’m lucky, I’m gifted a day-long adrenaline rush and some unusual dreams in return for my services.
When I was starting out, I worked as a breaking news journalist — a job that had me writing up to six news stories a day. On top of that, the pressure to catch every word in a presidential press briefing, for example, can be mind-bendingly intense and require such inconceivable attention. The only comparison I could draw would be day trading cryptocurrencies.
And like crypto, my work would often visit me late into the night. Once in bed, I’d feel a cursor blinking just beyond my peripheral vision, or I’d see foggy headlines being written and rewritten so that they didn’t bust through their character limits.
“U.S. president seeks deal with Iran on….” Delete, delete, delete. “President calls for trust with Iran on…” Was I asleep? Was I whispering to myself? The questions were the same then as they are now.
Even picking up a box of cereal at the grocery store during that time could trigger feelings of computer keys being smooshed between my fingers.
As I learned back then, what I was experiencing had ties to the so-called “Tetris effect.”
You see, when Tetris was released in the 1980s, people were so hooked on Russian-American engineer Alexey Pajitnov’s video game that they’d see and hear it in everything they did.
One writer for Wired in the early 1990s even called the game a “pharmatronic” in reference to its addictive powers.
Journalist Jeffrey Goldsmith wrote of playing the game: “Days, I sat on a lavender suede sofa and played Tetris furiously. During rare jaunts from the house, I visually fit cars and trees and people together.”
Sound familiar? Seeing crypto candlesticks, anyone?
Pajitnov told Wired: “You can’t imagine. I couldn’t finish the prototype! I started to play and never had time to finish the code. People kept playing, playing, playing. My best friend said, ‘I can’t live with your Tetris anymore.'”
Tetris dreams became widespread fodder for conversation among gamers and psychologists alike. In fact, psychiatry professor Robert Stickgold and colleagues of his at Harvard Medical School found that of those they trained to play the game, more than 60% reported dreaming of images associated with it.
Stickgold argued that these Tetris dreams were simply part of how human beings process information from our waking hours.
Tetris has also been linked to the “flow state,” the name given to the groove you achieve when you focus so heavily on a goal that the world around you melts away.
Kerr agrees that the crypto visions I had, mostly late at night, sound like the Tetris effect. But he’s quick to point out that our brains will gravitate toward puzzles, no matter what they are.
“We are natural problem solvers. And crypto is like a big puzzle in some ways. Dreaming has been linked to problem-solving abilities. And crypto is a problem we want to solve and get right and make money from,” Kerr says.