When I was in China last fall I watched a teenage girl on a Beijing subway say goodbye to a friend getting off at a stop. As soon as they had waved goodbye and the doors closed, the girl pulled out her phone and began thumbing away.
This reminded me that these days, all around the world, it no longer looks “normal” to be doing nothing — even on trains, in elevators, in waiting rooms, standing in lines, or walking down the street.
Since we can now bring our personal entertainment environments with us everywhere in the form of phones, tablets and headgear (like Google Glass), all locations and situations are becoming our personal entertainment environments.
We no longer have to be bored in traditionally boring situations…and are likely never to be bored again.
That’s great, right? Or is it…
The continually advancing capabilities of devices (and the media hype that goes with them) suggest to us that we are being further empowered every time we adopt a new, clever, entertaining tech capability.
It suggests that we will be using our devices more and more in the future as they become more and more relevant to our lives, assisting us in every imagineable situation.
As much as I love, use and benefit from technology (and I certainly do), I think today’s constantly-innovating, tech-driven lifestyle is encroaching on our time and freedom to just be.
In other words, we are running out of opportunities to be bored.
I recently read an article in an inflight magazine about boredom (picked up because I was bored on the plane). Various points were made by various experts.
•Research suggests that when you are bored your brain begins to create new neural pathways and connections within itself, leading to creativity, new thinking and other benefits.
•Our constant interaction with technology and screens is actually bad for our creativity and can result in a lack of originality.
•An example was given of a scientist who values her bored-time so much she refuses to use her laptop on plane flights — only a pad of paper and a pen, and only if she really needs to remember something.
We associate boredom with undesirable attributes like laziness, lack of motivation, non-productivity, arrogance and apathy.
Who wants to be (or look) bored? If you are bored — the current lifestyle model tells us — there is something wrong with you.
I was frequently bored as a boy growing up in a small town in upstate New York. My siblings were years older than me. I lived at the end of a private road surrounded by woods. Most friends my age lived miles away, requiring rides from parents if we wanted to play together. It was often up to me to entertain myself.
I learned to enjoy playing alone, and being alone with my thoughts. I had no particular agenda, I was free to adopt an idea one minute and abandon it the next; to invent, explore and discover what was inside as well as what was outside. I had a rich, lively, original inner landscape — powered by boredom.
Today I am convinced that the habits I developed from being bored as a child — proactivity, a love of exploring, openness to new ideas, being comfortable with myself — made it possible to connect strongly with creative outlets like writing and guitar playing later on.
I still see boredom as the starting point for creativity, insight and adventure.
I see it as an opportunity.
I see it as freedom.
Boredom compels you to solve the problem of being bored. It causes you to look around, literally and metaphorically. It can result in unexpected solutions, perspectives and new thinking.
Next time you feel bored, try resisting the impulse to reach for your phone and, instead, let yourself be bored for one minute. You might suddenly find yourself exploring a more interesting device: you.