Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Joy of Boredom

I can’t remember the last time I felt bored.

Having a lot of responsibilities can definitely stem boredom from ever blooming, but even if I didn’t have kids, didn’t have a job, didn’t have a pet, wasn’t married, or had no other responsibilities to speak of and had literally nothing but free time, there would still be no end to the potential entertainment ideas to occupy my time and stop boredom from ever showing up at my doorstep.

There is always something bright, colourful, pretty and perfect to entertain us with these days. You can read about anything online. You can Google. You can spend hours on social media. Pinterest is so fun! You can spend hours in its black hole, looking at countless variations on the perfect versions of an outfit, of a birthday party, of delectable dishes for any event and of any theme, of a beautifully-landscaped yard, of a dream house. You can spend hours watching Netflix/Crave/Shomi/Crackle/Hulu/Hugely-Gigantic-Database-of-TV-Shows-and-Movies-for-a-Low-Monthly-Fee. You can play games and read books, or you can play games while you listen to books, or you can read books while you listen to songs or entire crafted-for-your-mood playlists on a tens-of-thousands-of-songs-database-for-a-low-monthly-fee; there is no end to the possibilities. All the while, don’t forget about the long list of contacts in your phone with whom you can have conversations –all at once, if you want, via text or Messenger or WhatsApp.

Seriously, though: remember what it felt like to be really, truly bored? To have nothing to do? To sit quietly and think? To go to bed early because there were no good shows on the few channels available? (To go to bed without spending 10-15 minutes on your phone, in bed, until your arms got too tired from holding the phone up in front of your face?) To think through the boredom and find something interesting to do? To happen upon some interesting thought or activity? To end up doing something or talking about something or going somewhere new and perhaps having something to show for it in the end, leaving you feeling like you really thrived as a human being that day?

Have we reached the point in our civilization at which we are no longer capable of being legitimately bored?

We have so much to entertain ourselves with, which is great, I suppose, in some ways. However, I think we might be losing something along with the boredom that for me, at least, is growing scarce.

We have a lot of options with which to fill our spare time. Ours is such a “busy” society that I think we really guard our spare time with swords and shields and feel this need to be efficient at maximizing our spare time. I have definitely begun to feel less and less content with just one thing to do at a time. However, in order to fill my spare time with lots of options, these options have increasingly become easy options—ones that require less and less thinking. I’ll sit in front of the TV with at least one device by my side. I often prefer to watch shows or movies that do not require my full attention so that I can both watch the show/movie and scroll through [whatever] or text [whomever] at the same time. In other words, I am doing “more” but also doing “less.” Quantity over quality.

Between social media, the glorious Internet with its bottomless depth of information, email, texting, calendars, lists, and everything else we do on our devices, it’s like we live our real life with part of our attention and energy, and then we also live a parallel life on our devices with the other part of our divided attention. Texting while making dinner. Instagramming while watching TV with the kids. Looking up tracking information for a package while folding laundry. Putting a reminder in my phone to pay some bills after I finish up a phone call at work. Pulling out the phone to take a picture of something “significant” that just happened, feeling like it should be shared with the world. Watching The Martian and quickly Googling “Mars” to find out whether anyone has actually set foot on Mars yet (spoiler alert: no one from Earth has yet).  Unfortunately, the more these parallel universes combine and overlap, they dilute each other.

I have seen and read a lot of articles and quotes and miscellaneous encouragements about being mindful, about being in the present, about putting the phone away when you’re with the kids, about focusing on one thing instead of many little things...all of these ways of life are so important, but actually being mindful and focusing on the present is really challenging. To do anything on my phone while I am doing something else in my parallel universe is really easy. Unfortunately, this has caused me to become so over-stimulated with information that I forget most of what I read and don’t actually allow my mind to process anything securely enough to build those important connections in my brain—to really think things through. It’s like my mind is a landfill site, and front loaders are dumping a heaping lot of bits of things in there, and I’m standing there trying to clear a pathway...and basically see less and less of a point even trying.

The feeling of boredom is something I miss. Sitting at a restaurant before my friends get there, just taking it all in, people watching, considering the tacky decorations—what is that like, again? Waiting before a doctor’s appointment or a class, making small talk with the people around me and learning something interesting about someone else there—what is that like, again?

I miss a lot of that now because my first instinct when I sit with two minutes of free time by myself is to whip out my parallel universe—my phone—and check on the orbits of all the planets there. (This is saying a lot because I am the type of person who likes to chat it up with whomever, and I do love to observe people and restaurant decorations.) What am I forgetting to put in my calendar? Whom do I need to text about something? What happened in the 10 minutes since I put my phone in my purse and drove here? Wait...what—nothing happened? So...did those 10 minutes actually happen? Two minutes later, after checking my email, and scrolling through whatever app whose icon I tapped without thinking, nothing significant has actually happened, really, whereas two minutes of just “being” there would have been way more beneficial to my psyche...and more environmentally-friendly to my mental landfill.

See what I mean? I worry about the loss of boredom. We need time to sit at a loss of things to do and not have anything to fill our minds with clutter sometimes—in order to declutter our minds. We need to take it all in and remember what it felt like to be somewhere, to do something, to talk to someone. We need to let our minds be innovative and curious—let our minds process the information we have and navigate through boredom into creativity or something meaningful and significant instead of always reverting to the easy road, which for me is whipping out my phone, my tablet or finding something to watch on Netflix, or all of the above. “Entertain me,” I exclaim. “Dance for me, puppets!” The entertainment options are endless, but they push the memory of a good, healthy boredom further and further away.

This conflict, these parallel lives, the increase of entertainment and time-fillers, the decrease of boredom, the need to be mindful in the present pushing against the convenience of Google at our fingertips—all of these forces continue to push against each other in this ebb-and-flow that has left me wondering whether there actually can be a solution or a balance. There is something to be lost and something to be gained with the conveniences of modern-day entertainment and technology. There is something very significant to be said of mindfulness and boredom and time to just be, but it is always being held up beside this perfect, shiny, bright beacon of light and possibility, which is our devices and all that they can offer.

I never thought I would say this, but if I ever feel that real, authentic kind of boredom again, I will get really excited. I promise that I will enjoy it; I will really try to enjoy it.

PS If you actually read this whole post until the end without getting distracted by something: you get 1 million points. If you read this whole post without getting bored: I’m glad this wasn’t boring and thanks so much for that; now go, do nothing and feel bored, please. Your mind will thank you and give you another million points.

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