When several people recommended Bored and Brilliant by Manoush Zomorodi to me within a few weeks this past year, it went on my reading list.
I’ll keep this review short, since everyone it too busy to be bored, as the author suggests. But before you bounce off to your next distraction, definitely consider the idea that we can’t stand to be bored anymore. (affiliate link below)
I personally remember growing up, complaining about being bored. Let’s be honest. I lived in a rural community with three channels on the TV. Staying busy was hard for this city-mouse-at-heart. Today, I rarely hear kids say they are bored. There’s just too much to distract them, both in consumer goods and screen activities.
Zomorodi makes the case, both through anecdotal experiences of her radio show audience, and through review of scientific studies, that our brains actually need downtime. She makes a case that the in-between states that we allow ourselves to experience use the “default network” in the brain to produce, among other things, autobiographical narrative. It’s this space where we talk to ourselves, about ourselves. I feel like she’s describing what I call the voice in my head, which is where I argue with myself, berate myself, problem solve so that I won’t do that dumb thing if I find myself in a similar situation in the future, and pump myself up when needed.
As a writer myself, perhaps I’m more aware than some of that little voice in my head. I’m always writing a little narrative off to the side of the action. And I’m always commenting on what’s going on or what went on in real life. “Hey, that was better than last time. I’ve got to remember to share that with my BFF. I wonder if I ran this event, how would I change it up? Who would play me in a made-for-TV movie?” Not all thoughts are as self-absorbed, mind you. But there is this little narrator observing what’s going on around me, as well as inside of me.
Without the chance to be bored, we miss the chance to get to know that little narrator, and we miss the chance to learn from her (or him). That little voice is also the inventor, the teacher, the explorer in us. And she leads us to make connections that aren’t obvious.
For me, especially, that little voice needs some downtime to come up with creative organizing solutions for myself and clients. We’ve all had the experience of coming up with a fresh idea after sleeping on it. I rely on that strategy of putting something aside for a minute, an hour or a day and hoping that the little voice in my head has gotten busy while I was driving home, doing dishes, or filling out forms for my kids. It doesn’t seem to work as well if I was binge-watching.
I think a lot about the content that we’re all consuming from our devices these days. The challenge isn’t in finding good, useful or valuable material. The challenge is that most of what we consume is chosen by someone else, whether we’re in front of a TV show, a computer game, social media platforms, or even an online catalog. Our devices today are designed to push us from one piece of content to another, seamlessly, without us thinking twice.
And there is no end to the content.
Unlike a magazine, there is no final page. There is often no good stopping point at all. Even the end of a 3-minute YouTube video isn’t final; a new, relevant video is waiting immediately after the end of the one you are watching now, and you are evaluating it even before your current content stops playing. There is no end to the light needed to see the content; our candle won’t burn to its wick end. There is no real natural trigger to create an end, a quiet space. We have to do that for ourselves.
So we, now, are the first generation in history to have to choose to be bored on a regular basis.
It feels weird. Statistics say that most people can’t go six minutes without their phone before becoming anxious. We check our phones between 80 and 150 times a day! But creating downtime – opportunity to be bored – is necessary, because that creative, imaginative, problem-solving voice in your head can’t work as effectively when someone else’s message and images are constantly parading through it’s corridors.
So the next time your kids are spacing out, reward them. It might be just what they need. Next time they say they are bored, give them a pat on the back, and say you are proud of them, and pat yourself on the back for being the kind of awesome parent who can still give your kid the gift of boredom.