The Lost Art of Being Bored
LOG OFF Guest Writer Sophie Tunnicliffe shares her experience growing up in a world without social media and offers unconventional but revolutionary advice. She motions that we should stop running from boredom, filling every spare moment with social media, and instead embrace it, allowing it to prompt us to use our time in more fulfilling and productive ways.
I was born in the sixties. And even if I tend to think it wasn’t so long ago, I realize every day how far away the sixties are…I was born before the internet! I was also born before the cellphones, before smartphones, and before any kind of phone that resembles a miniature computer.
Speaking of which, there weren't even that many computers back then, and as a child, it was something reserved to sci-fi series, scientists or very important adults. I remember seeing my first computer at a friend’s house as a teenager and thinking right then how uncomfortable I felt in front of this machine that wasn’t like anything I had ever seen before. I was a huge fan of science fiction and spent a lot of time watching series (any Trekkies reading this? Live long and prosper!) and reading SF books. And somehow, they all seemed to agree on the fact that too much technology was bad for humanity.
Fast forward 40 years later: we are living in the future I was reading about back then, and although cars don’t fly, spaceships are not that common, and I gave up on riding a hoverboard, computers have invaded our lives to the extent that anyone not using them is now considered a misfit or a plain weirdo!
Don’t get me wrong: I’m currently using my phone and my laptop to write this piece; I am wearing an Apple Watch and have a house that lights up or shuts down thanks to my phone or my voice... I’m right there with you!
To anyone born after 1990, technology isn’t even technology, it’s just life, right? And from a very young age, you get to rely on screens for just about everything. Schools have computers, parents have computers. You probably have at least one too, and most of your life happens behind a screen.
There’s one thing which hardly happens anymore: being bored! Because as soon as you get bored, you just click away and the whole world is at your fingertips. You can browse, chat, play, order, or buy anything as long as you have a screen and a credit card (or a parent nearby).
And there isn’t anything wrong with this, is it? I mean, who would want to get bored anyway? Being bored is... well boring really! Who would want to have nothing to do when you can do just about everything online? Well the trouble is, there is actually someone who would truly benefit from being bored: you!
Let me tell you a story so that you get my point : It’s the weekend, and you still live with your parents, your parents are busy, you’ve done your homework (because you always do your homework first, right...?), and you don’t know what to do.
If you’re all grown, you’ve worked hard the whole week, you may not be living with your parents anymore, but basically you’ve done what you needed to do and now nothing. No work, no plan, no family reunion, the weekend ahead looks like a giant black hole ready to swallow you alive (I may have watched too much sci-fi…).
So you turn on your screen, be it your laptop or phone, and you start scrolling away. Whether you’re on social media looking at stuff you don’t even care about or going from one website to the next buying stuff you didn’t even know you needed ten minutes ago, your brain is now lulled into online coma and hours go by without you even noticing. Pretty soon it’s the evening, dinner, bed, boom! Another day gone by!
What did you achieve? Not much. Are you satisfied with your day? Maybe, maybe not. Will tomorrow look the same? Probably.
Now imagine the same thing back in the days: It’s the weekend, your parents are busy, you’ve done your homework (you know the drill…), and you don’t know what to do... But you don’t have a phone, you don’t have a laptop, you may have a landline, so you call your friend(s):
“Hey what’s up?"
"Wanna hang out?"
"Sure! Let me catch the subway/grab my bike/put on some shoes and I’ll join you at your place/in the nearby park/in the neighborhood.”
So you hang out with your friends; you talk about life, school, hobbies, other people, the future... Or, perhaps, you’re on your own, no friends around, but you and the world start interacting; whether you’re in a busy city or living in the middle of nature, you go out and your brain just buzzes with activity! Your little neural pathways are fired up, information is exchanged, stored away, new connections are made...
On top of that you’re active, you’re not stuck on a chair with artificial light screwing up your sleeping patterns, you’re catching daylight, which helps your body produce all the hormones you need to sleep and restore your whole body. And if you’re walking or cycling, your body is getting a free workout, which in turn strengthens your bones and improves your whole body, brain included (breathing, digestion, cleansing, etc.).
And all of this just happened because you got BORED!
And if you need further convincing (although if you know about LOG OFF, you’ve probably started realising that being constantly online may severely affect your overall health and your brain in particular), a recent study* published in 2019 by the World Psychiatry journal and conducted by some of the most eminent researchers from England, Australia, and the US, shows that the Internet can seriously damage your brain, by altering specific areas of cognition, actually causing changes to the brain structure, which in turn screws up your ability to focus, your memory, and the way you interact socially.
I don’t know about you, but I’m shuddering a bit even as I am typing this.
These days we live in a world of busyness, everyone needs to be doing stuff all the time. Parents cram their children’s planning as if their worth was based on the number of activities they can participate in. Wanting the best for our children has turned into wanting the most for them, and instead of having happy kids, we now have a world of stressed out children.
Mental health conditions are on the rise; suicide among teenagers and young adults is on the rise. Instead of helping our future citizens, we are slowly killing them by overworking them.
Although we need to make sure that something we might be calling boredom isn’t in fact depression**, thus requiring professional help rather than a breath of fresh air, we also need to remember that boredom isn’t bad. It is in fact the fertile ground upon which some great discoveries were made, Isaac Newton’s famous nap under an apple tree is a great example (if you’ve never heard of him, I urge you to go check him out, you know where to look!), and if you dig a little, you’ll find out that most great thinkers and achievers found their greatest ideas while doing nothing.
No wonder meditation has become so mainstream. Even brain specialists recommend to sit quietly and do nothing to counteract the damage done by too much online activity. Even schools are realizing that children in detention reap more benefit, and consequently are easier to manage, when asked to meditate rather than do extra work***.
As a child, I remember so many moments when I felt bored. But somehow, these moments all turned into adventures. I would find comfort in nature--fields transformed into foreign lands, trees into refuges, hills into mountains that I had to conquer. As a teenager, boredom pushed me out of my shyness and I met some really cool people that way (some were not that cool, but who cares?). I have been an adult for quite a while now and actually have to remember to get bored every now and then.
When I started investigating about boredom, I realized that I wasn’t the only one and found articles and books about it****. I haven’t read all of them, mostly because I wanted this piece to be mine and not a summary of other people’s take on the subject, but I think in the end, it all comes down to this: If you find yourself bored, good! Instead of trying really hard to find something, anything to do, just take a breath and acknowledge the fact that this could be the very beginning of a life-defining moment. You can sit, lie down, go for a walk, doodle mindlessly, look around you, grab your bike, or anything else, but don’t try to be efficient, productive, clever, or active in any way. Just be bored for a while and see what happens. I promise you won’t regret it. I never have.
* World Psychiatry, 2019: “The “online brain”: how the Internet may be changing our cognition”.
** If someone you know seems constantly bored, no matter the amount of activity or interaction that she or he is getting, then this person deserves your full attention and may need some professional help.
***Dr. Sandi Mann: “The Upside of Downtime: Why Boredom Is Good” *** https://mindfulnessinschools.org/about/ & https://www.mindfulschools.org
****Jamie Ducharme (Time Magazine, 01/19): “Being Bored Can Be Good for You—If You Do It Right. Here’s How”