When was the last time you were bored?
Perhaps it’s right now, as you’re looking at this post in your RSS feed and going “Awwww, a looong one. Fuck this, I’m going to check out Reddit/Twitter/Tumblr instead.”
Because really, who wants to slog through a 1000+ word article when their are snippets to be had elsewhere? Do you have any idea how many tweets I can absorb in the time it takes to read just one article by Delusion Damage? Or Mencius Moldbug? Or god forbid, to read an actual book? Somehow, previous generations made it through War and Peace without the alt-tab feature – crazy, I know.
Ask yourself if this sounds at all like you:
“If I have access to my phone, or my computer, I’m never bored. If I’m watching TV, I can fast-forward through commercials. If I’m standing in line at the store, I can check email or play Angry Birds. When I work out, I listen to my iPod. I wake up in the morning and walk straight to my iPad to browse the headlines while my coffee is brewing. The last thing I do before shutting my eyes at night is browse the news again on my phone.“
The human mind is not well-equipped to resist the constant influx of information. Emails, text messages, RSS feeds and social media sites updated in real time all seduce our savanna-adapted brains with the illusion of importance.
Is the constant distraction harmless? Some would argue that it’s actually beneficial. A friend recently made the argument, when I told her she should go into rehab to cure her iPhone addiction, that she only wasted time on her phone if it was already wasted to begin with. i.e, if she’s waiting in line or taking the subway. All she’s sacrificing are a few minutes of boredom.
But what if boredom is good?
“As recently as a year ago I would drive my car in silence and cook up all sorts of ideas on the go. Now I have satellite radio and can always find some auditory diversion. The only reliable place to be bored these days is in the shower.
Now let’s suppose that the people who are leaders and innovators around the world are experiencing a similar lack of boredom. I think it’s fair to say they are. What change would you expect to see in a world with declining boredom and therefore declining creativity?
I’ll take some guesses.
For starters, you might see people acting more dogmatic than usual. If you don’t have time to think for yourself, and think creatively, the easiest opinion to adopt is the default position of your political party, religion, or culture. Check.
You might see more movies that seem derivative or based on sequels. Check.
You might see more reality shows and fewer scripted shows. Check.
You might see the bestseller lists dominated by fiction “factories” where ghost writers churn out work under the brand of someone famous. Check.
You might see almost no humor books on the bestseller lists except for ones built around a celebrity. Check.
You might see the economy flatline for lack of industry-changing innovation. Check.
You might see the news headlines start to repeat, like the movie Groundhog Day, with nothing but the names changed. Check.
You might find that bloggers are spending most of their energy writing about other bloggers. Check.
You might find that people seem almost incapable of even understanding new ideas. Check.“
(In addition to those points, I’ll add that the more time people spend attached to their information feeding tube, the greater will be the division and isolation of individuals along the lines of the media they’ve chosen to consume. If you think politics is rancorous now… but I digress.)
So how harmful is the lack of boredom in your life to you, personally?
Since most of my generation can’t even remember what boredom feels like, the only way to find out is via experiment:
– Turn off your computer’s internet connection while you work. If you get stuck on something, you’ll have to sit there and stew in your own failure, rather than check for new emails and twats.
– Take long walks, sans iPod.
– Limit yourself to checking your RSS feed once a week
– Find moments of boredom in your day to day life, and embrace them. Turn off your car radio. Stand in line without texting your friends. Stare at people with your mouth half-open on public transit.
Try shutting down the constant information trickle. See how much more you get done. Confront the amount of time that you waste on distracting bullshit, and ask yourself what it really adds to your life. If we let inertia be our guide, we will go down in history as the generation that pissed away the opportunity for greatness that our parents’ epic failure offered to us, because we were too busy refreshing our twitter feeds. If we fight to regain control of our attention spans… well, who knows what could happen?