I remember days as a teenager with nothing to do and nowhere to go. Being bored to the bone.
I used to hate having endless time and no money to make something happen.
Technology has solved that problem. There’s always a smartphone to take our minds off boredom.
But this is not a good thing, as technology and culture writer Nicolas Carr explains in his book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.
He writes: “The net is designed to be an interruption system, a machine geared to dividing attention. We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the division of our attention and the fragmentation of our thoughts, in return for the wealth of compelling or at least diverting information we receive.”
The wealth of compelling or diverting information is precisely the problem – it robs us of that very thing we’re trying to avoid: boredom.
Here’s why that’s not a good thing.
Smartphones taking away your ability to be contemplative and introspective
If you’re like most people, you reach for your smartphone the moment you experience some emptiness, maybe loneliness. You let your phone take you on a trip so you can avoid that you’re feeling a bit at a loose end. Just plain bored.
In his book Carr writes: “And so the more time we spend surfing and skimming and scanning online and multitasking and processing lots of interruptions, we begin to lose the capability to pay attention, to concentrate, to be contemplative and introspective.”
That’s the point. Our online addiction prevents us from using boredom to our benefit – to contemplate and be introspective. As we lose our ability to focus we also lose the ability to just let our attention drift and to daydream, an essential brain state for creativity, writes Derek Beres for Big Think.
Our imagination, which is the font of our creativity, depends on our being willing to spend time just daydreaming, to let our minds wander.
As Beres puts it so perfectly: “Technology lets us wander, but in someone else’s world, through an often confused and seemingly random collection of hyperlinks, advertisements disguised as content, content disguised as journalism.”
Our phones and computers let us wander in someone else’s world
What would happen if we refuse the lure of technology? If next time when we’re waiting in line for our coffee or sit in the doctor’s waiting room, instead of reaching for our phone, we just let the moment be what it is? If we don’t try to fill it with something from someone else’s world, but let our minds go off in our own inner world?
We might just find a precious gem in the inner recesses of a bored mind.
It’s when we’re bored and just give our minds free rein that we come up with the most astonishing idea: we discover our own creativity.
We need imagination in order to be creative and imagination is born from boredom.
Boredom increases our creativity
Psychologists in the UK have found that boredom increases creativity. Dr Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman from the University of Central Lancashire in their research found that being bored can have positive results including an increase in creativity because it gives us time to daydream.
Dr Mann and Ms Cadman conducted two studies. In the first, 40 people were asked to carry out a boring task (copying numbers out of a telephone directory) for 15 minutes, and were then asked to complete another task (coming up with different uses for a pair of polystyrene cups).
The 40 people who had first copied out the telephone numbers were more creative than a control group of 40 who had just been asked to come up with different uses for the cups.
To see if daydreaming was a factor in this result, a second boring task was introduced that allowed even more daydreaming than the boring writing task. This second study saw 30 people copying out the numbers as before, but also included a second group of 30 reading rather than writing them.
Again the researchers found that the people in the control group were least creative, but the people who had just read the names were more creative than those who had to write them out.
So, the more passive the boredom, the more likely the daydreaming and the more creative a person is afterwards.
Next time you are tempted to like, follow, or scroll through news sites because you think you have nothing better to do, reconsider: rather do nothing and let your imagination show what it’s capable of. You never know, you might come up with the plot for the next Netflix hit.