by Frost on July 14, 2011

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.

– Meditate

– 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?

Related: The TL;DR generation, and Calorie Counting on an Information Diet

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

dave July 16, 2011 at 1:18 am

Random question.

So I was doing arm curls and for the first time ever this muscle in my elbow felt really painful. I couldn’t even lift a lower weight level. WTF is up with that.

Frost July 17, 2011 at 8:35 pm

Sounds tendon related. I recommend heavy, sustained doses of anabolic steroids and Oxycontin.

Actually, you might want to try massaging/stretching the bicep. Massage/foam rolling/stretching worked for me when I was dealing with achilles tendonitis.

Anotherboringguy July 15, 2011 at 8:11 am

I try to experience things more intensely sometimes —e.g. taking time to eat , people watching, breathing in deeply the scent of freshly mown grass or listening to rain patter on a window— as if I were reading Proust or Thoreau. I figure if you can be contented with ‘experience’ as a positive thing in itself –gratitude for ennui– you could save yourself a whole lot of bother in life (the rat race) . An occasional thrill such as climbing a mountain or a night of drinking is still a requisite to boost this appreciation. Contrasts are important in life.

Frost July 17, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Good on ya.

Similar to that, I try to enjoy bad experiences for what they are, rather than let them get to me. ie, I miss a flight –> well, nothing I can do now, right? Might as well wallow in the frustration and anger, let it wash over me, and just try to enjoy the experience as a third party.

dave July 15, 2011 at 1:04 am

If most of us followed this advice, I doubt we’d have ever read this blog.

Frost July 17, 2011 at 8:29 pm

ba dum cha.

But actually no. The best way to read blogs imo is in batches. I am dumbfounded that there are people who will find a blog, like it, and subscribe… without reading the archives. When I browse, I categorize blogs as either:

1) Boring. Skip.

2) Interesting. Skim/read the archives.

3) Interesting, and going somewhere. Subscribe.

But I’ll never subscribe and skip the archives. Madness, that.

Arch July 15, 2011 at 12:50 am

Perhaps I’m just odd, and that’s very likely, but I find checking blog feeds and news and weather gets boring. My interpretation of the article is that the author is saying our information overload is a 100% effective cure for boredom, but I think one can become bored with anything given enough over-stimulation. If that’s the case, then we may see a counter-culture evolve that prides itself on limited consumption of information technology as people reach their personal limits en masse.

Frost July 17, 2011 at 8:26 pm

News gets boring fast.

As for blogs – there are a lot of interesting people out there. If I had unlimited hours, my RSS feed would be much more prolific than it is now.

As for the low-info counter-culture, welcome! You’ve found it.

whiteboykrispy July 14, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Great post man, this is so true it is beyond funny.

I have some of my best ideas in the shower because it is the sole part of the day I’m not distracted.

Time to rethink how much I spend “bored”.

MarcTheEngineer July 14, 2011 at 4:04 pm
(R)Evolutionary July 14, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Great post, and I am working to shut down this information addiction. However it’s not an unmitigated failure. For myself, I’m massively curious about the world, about the human body, sex, evolution, etc. I’ll take a lull in a presentation to look up the long-term side effects of creatine monohydrate supplementation (none known in health subjects), or I’ll research a new mountain bike, or I’ll look up a new plant, or I’ll research a physiological pathway like how the body deals with long-chain vs. short-chain Omega 6 fatty acids, or how to increase my deadlifts, or a new squatting technique (starting from the bottom, ass to the floor).all this in just the last 24 hours of interwebs surfing in “down time” moments.

But I do agree, this info overload/addiction fucking with me because I run my own business, and it keeps me from doing some of the things I need to do to be massively successful long-term. My hindbrain is often willing to accept a moderate or only average short-term success in order to get the info I crave. I admit, I am massively challenged. I need to focus on my business and cash flow, but I hate to say it, it’s fucking boring. My business isn’t boring, and I enjoy that, but dealing with the back end of it, fucking BOOOO-RING.

And no, I”m not a TL:DR person, I’ll read an entire post from Delusion Damage, maybe even several in a row. I read books on the regular, journal articles, etc. I have plenty of attention span, but I have trouble focusing it on things that aren’t absolutely compelling for me in the moment.

For me, I know what can and will happen when I get it under control–massive success, and maybe even independent wealth so I can afford to play more, to write more & do more creative stuff, not just stuff for profit, even though the profitable stuff is still fun for me, just not as fun as the stuff I REALLY want to write, create, and do.

OK, shutting this bitch down for a bit.

Cheers, braugh.

Frost July 17, 2011 at 8:22 pm

What kind of business?

Highly recommend the four hour work week if you’re interested in increasing your cash flow/business stress ratio.

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