When has the last time you felt deeply and utterly bored? Or better yet, when was the last time you had some mental downtime without looking at any device?
With the current world situation, we have been forced to re-evaluate the way in which we spend our time. For the past couple of months, there has been no going to the movies and no dinner with friends on a Friday night. Yet I’d argue that one thing has remained the same (or maybe even got worse): the constant bombardment of information.
Now more than ever, our phones are begging for our attention. There’s new content for us to consume all the time, from the latest COVID-19 update to those choreography Tik-Toks or cat videos everyone seems to be addicted to. The world outside is changing completely, but our relationship with our devices is stronger than ever.
This an invitation to think long and hard about your relationship with technology and our hyper-attention to everything and everyone at every moment as a society. And then act accordingly. This is also a challenge. A call to action. Turn off that screen and let yourself get bored. Take a pause from your constant need to be doing something you deem productive. The benefits could be better than you can imagine.
Deep boredom can enhance creativity. Yes, you read that right. In 2015, journalist Manoush Zomorodi launched a research project with two questions in mind: What happens to our brains when we get bored? And what happens if we never get bored?
One of the people she talked to was researcher Sandi Mann, a UK-based psychologist who studies the relationship between boredom and creativity. Mann told Zomorodi that when we are bored, we “might go off in our heads to try and find that stimulation by our minds wandering, daydreaming and you start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, a little bit in the subconscious which allows sort of different connections to take place.”
According to Zomorodi, household tasks such as doing the dishes or folding laundry send our brains into a sort of default mode and, as a result, are the moments in which we do some of our best problem solving. Scientists have long argued that our brains do something called “autobiographical planning,” which Zomorodi defines as looking back at our lives and its biggest moments, creating a personal narrative, setting goals, and figuring out what steps we need to take in order to reach them. This kind of thinking is vital to long-term success, and can not be done while scrolling through Instagram.
In order to create more opportunities for autobiographical planning in our daily lives, Zomorodi invites us to reflect on our relationship with our phones and with technology in general. Are we the ones in control here? Or are we just passive consumers of everything social media throws at us? A clue to the answer is in the title of the book that Zomorodi’s research led her to publish: Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self.
Philosophers come to similar conclusions as Zomorodi. For example, in The Human Condition (1958), Hannah Arendt talks about the vita activa (active life), and the vita contemplativa (the contemplative life). The active life encourages us to labor, work, act. In our modern times, arendt argues that we constantly live in a state of action. We are constantly creating, working and producing, wherever we are. We have neglected the vita contemplativa. According to Arendt, as a modern society, we are a society of laboring.
South Korean-German philosopher Byung-Chul Han analyzes Arendt’s argument in his book The Burnout Society (2015). He accepts her description of modern society as enthralled by the active live. However, he argues that the active life can not exist without the contemplative life. Action inevitably leads to fatigue, which causes us to contemplate the meaning of our labor. As we do that, we make observations about how we can improve our work in future, which in turn leads us back into enthusiastic action. The two lives are not opposed to each other, rather, they are part of the same, endless cycle of action-reflection-action. Han’s understanding of contemplation is similar to the idea of the “autobiographical planning” that Zomorodi and others talk about.
When was the last time you stopped to reflect on your daily activities? On what productivity means to you and your relationship to technology? This is where the ability to contemplate comes into play. Just as Zomorodi invites us to examine our relationship with technology, Han argues that “learning to see means getting your eyes used to calm, to patience, to letting things come to you.” Let this be an invitation to seek more moments of contemplation. Embracing boredom, disconnecting from our screens, and getting on with physical tasks that allow us to connect with our surroundings can all be more rewarding than you think. With all of that in mind, and taking into account the current climate, how are you supposed to go about it?
How to make your boredom work for you during quarantine? Here are our suggestions:
Get off your phone more often. Seek to connect with your surroundings. While binge watching the latest show on Netflix or constantly checking the news for the latest update might seem terribly tempting, disconnecting from the over-saturation of information will give your brain a break..
Find value… in household tasks like folding laundry or doing dishes. Different people find these tasks either tedious or stressful, but Zomorodi and Mann argue that they help our brains get into a default mode that allows us to do some of our best thinking. Autobiographical planning is not something we can do while scrolling aimlessly through Instagram, because even though it doesn’t feel like it, our brains are still busy processing the content we are being bombarded with See these tasks as an opportunity to reflect.
Modify your space. There may be another whole article here, but nNow that we have more time at home, it might be a good moment to go over our closets or the many things we might have hoarded over the years. Marie Kondo is not wrong when she says that, clutter is basically just another form of information that can overload us. Cleaning up the spaces where you spend your time can help clear your mind and allow for ideas to flow freely..
In case you’d like to check them out, the books mentioned in the article were the following:
Manoush Zomorodi. Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self. Saint Martin’s Press, 2017.
Hannah Arendt. The Human Condition. Second Edition. The University of Chicago Press, 2018.
Byung-Chul Han. The Burnout Society. Stanford Briefs, 2015.
About the Author
Evelyn is a media professional based in Mexico City. She has an MSc in Communication Science from UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico). She currently works in gender and media research, studying the quality of content on Mexican open television, while also coordinating a documentary film club on Latin American history and politics. Last but not least, Evelyn is a feminist and a true crime podcast enthusiast.