Boredom is a thing of the past
Do you remember sitting on the toilet and reading the back of a shampoo bottle twice over?
How about flicking through an outdated directory or Heat magazine in a waiting room?
Dipping in and out of consciousness on a long flight.
Listening to the same three downloaded albums over and over on the school bus every day.
Staring out the window in chemistry class.
Sitting on a park bench with nothing but a drink and a view.
Washing the dishes and just focusing on getting them sparkling clean.
When was the last time you really got lost in a daydream? If you have internet and a smartphone, probably not for a while.
The brain is active in some capacity 24/7; 365. The modern world is relentless in the strain that it places on our minds. Entertainment, social media, and remote work - the things that are supposed to make us happier, more social and more productive - seem to have had an overall negative impact on our mental faculties and mental health.
In a world with 24/7 on-demand access to high-speed internet; screens and headphones; and over 328 million terabytes of data produced every day, you can quite easily spend your entire waking life on a device, working or consuming.
This doesn't leave much time for mental rest, reflection, meditation or daydreaming - things we might conflate as boredom. There's always "something to do"; a crushing amount of work and content to catch up on - so much so that people pay large sums of money to escape the madness through darkness retreats, yoga camps, and solo treks in the wilderness, where they are forced into a prolonged state of solitude.
But why would anyone choose to sit with their own thoughts or be just a little bored when there's unlimited content, tailored to your preferences (or triggers), just waiting for you in your pocket?
When we sit in passive rest and let out minds wander, we engage the Default Mode Network. Here, there's no task to engage in, and no external stimulus to distract ourselves with. We might think about ourselves or others, remember the past, or plan for the future. Our internal chatter comes to the surface; often revealing and sometimes uncomfortable.
There is ample evidence to suggest that allowing your mind to check out can boost memory consolidation and creativity. Neuroscientists also believe that being bored more often can improve our social connections and empathy.
Many famous writers, artists, entrepreneurs and inventors have attributed some of their best and most creative ideas to time spent daydreaming or completing quiet, mundane tasks - think of those eureka moments that come to you in the shower.
An inability to access the default mode network has been associated with several mental disorders, including Alzheimer's and psychosis. Those with such disorders struggle to engage in the self-focus and mental time travel that we take for granted.
We typically break our waking time down into two buckets: work/productivity and leisure. I would propose a third, equally-important bucket: restoration. This is time spent with the mind mostly disengaged, absent of any external input - which is anything made by someone else. Sounds a lot like being asleep, but I think there's value in spending time in this state whilst conscious.
Unfortunately, this can make you feel guilty about wasting time, or even create feelings of FOMO. It takes a conscious effort to decondition this emotional response.
In my own experience, allocating small, regular pockets of time to doing nothing - just walking or sitting in silence - has resulted in decreased rumination and an increased ability to focus. I realise that I'm not that busy - and actually, I never miss out on anything. I can either process recent events or simply appreciate the present moment.
Literally every one of our ancestors (thousands of generations) would have spent a great deal of time in this state. So it makes sense that our brain is adapted to it - needs it, even. And we know that it's absolutely not adapted to consuming 150 TikToks, reels or shorts before getting out of bed to check work emails.
I can guarantee that every one of us has used our devices to suppress feelings of discomfort - willingly going down internet rabbit holes, or refreshing our feeds like a thirsty alcoholic at a bottomless brunch. Anaesthetised by work or content, it's easier than ever to procrastinate - to put off that which really needs to be done.
Having the option to not be bored - to instead be productive, to educate or entertain ourselves, is great. It's what I love about modern technology and the freedom it affords us. But being able to switch between an active and passive brain state; to not reach for the phone at the slightest hint of boredom like a pre-programmed machine... That's real freedom.
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