Sitting on a train going from New Haven to DC, I noticed something. Everyone was swallowed up by his or her device. On this Friday afternoon -- where spring was beginning to enchant the eye -- passengers' noses were buried in their laptops, cellphones, or both.
Circular Train of Thought
The guy sitting next to me had the worst of this affliction. He had a huge computer that was bigger than the tray-table. The computer had a touchscreen, which he would continuously tap. Leaning along side this mammoth machine was an equally as oversize cellphone, which would occasionally fall off the table when the train hit a bump. This poor soul would reach over to the phone when the screen changed color or when it vibrated. Sometimes he would just reach it to see what time it was, which he could have easily figured out by just adding 30 seconds to the last time he checked it. He was caught in a Pavlovian loop of touching the computer screen and reaching for his cell phone without any Crtl-Alt-Del buttons in sight.
This was a Friday evening on the train. It should have been the time to log off from work, from the week, and from the world. However, what I was witnessing with my fellow traveler was not relaxation. And I grew saddened by the fact that he didn't know how to log-off, or know the benefits of being a bit bored.
Too Much Information
When I am writing, I sit at a computer with the Wi-Fi turned off. I'll be the first to admit that staring at a blank page is hard and a bit boring. But this space of logging off is exactly the space needed for me to create. It is the disconnecting that makes room for words to come onto a page or screen.
To create, we need to make space for our creation. Think of it this way -- Emily Dickinson might not have written a word if she kept getting text messages. Thomas Edison might not have created the light bulb if he was sitting on his Facebook page. Steve Jobs might not have made the Mac if he was sucked into Candy Crush. Yet this is the world that we live in. We are highly over-stimulated.
We are hopped up on technology, and it will only get worse unless we individually make some choices to log off occasionally. We have to do it intentionally. There isn't an app for that.
The brain is a wonderful computer, but unlike our devices, it needs to log-off occasionally in order to work better. When I was growing up, television used to sign off late in the evening. Today, television programming is 24/7. And this state of "being on" gives me concern that our children will not learn how to rest their brains. There are benefits to being bored and unoccupied, but our children will never learn them.
Making Room for Boredom and Creativity
We have devices, cellphones, social media, and apps to fill the empty space. However, a recent study shows the benefits of boredom. A bit of boredom increases creativity. In one study, researchers had two groups -- one that did a boring task of copying phone numbers onto a page for 15 minutes, and another group that did not. Both groups were then asked to work on a task that allowed them to show their creativity. In each case, the "bored" group performed better. "Boredom . . . has always been seen as something to be eliminated, but perhaps we should be embracing it in order to enhance our creativity," says Dr. Sandi Mann, a professor of psychology at the University of Central Lancashire (U.K.) and one of the researchers of this study.
When you are not consumed by technology, your brain has space to breathe and to create.
So how do we make space for boredom? Have children sit for a few minutes, and let their minds wander. Afterward, have them report out what they thought about. Make it a game. Give them a chance to experience boredom briefly -- their creative brains will thank you in the future.