Do you find your job dull? Are you bored of your tedious relationship? Is boredom the reason behind your constant need for entertainment or frequent retail therapy sessions? You are not alone. It is the irony of today’s digital era. Even as we are constantly connected in the virtual world and busy tapping on multiple screens, in reality, we feel more bored than ever before.
In The Upside of Downtime: Why Boredom is Good, author Sandi Mann argues that the more we shun boredom and stimulate ourselves with digital devices, the more stimulation we seem to crave. This becomes a vicious cycle. In the process, we lose our ability to cope with routine, repetitive tasks and get bored easily. Mann writes that we have become so addicted to the constant buzz of novelty streaming down our electronic devices that we constantly crave for it. And the less these cravings are satisfied, the more we interpret it as boredom.
The obsession society seems to have with eliminating the slightest hint of boredom by turning to the TV, mobile phone or social media has led to a rise in what the author calls ‘leisure boredom’. To highlight modern-day screen habits, Mann quotes an interesting study conducted by Mary Meeker, an Internet analyst at financial services firm Morgan Stanley. The study finds that on an average people spend six-seven hours in front of the TV, mobile phone or computer everyday. This means that 40% of our waking life is spent gazing at a screen or tapping on it. No wonder, this breeds boredom. Consider an average working day. Most of the day in office is spent tapping away at keyboards and, if we look for entertainment via the Internet, more time is spent tapping on phones. This constant tapping and gazing at the screen prevents us from finding more productive means of beating the ennui.
Our active pastimes have been replaced by passive activities such as watching television. Mann writes that such over-reliance on passive media means that we have become passive recipients of stimulation and are unable to go out and get our own stimulants. In fact, studies show that people spend far more time passively scrolling through newsfeeds than they do actively engaging with content. Such passive experience, irrespective of the medium, translates into feelings of boredom, writes Mann.
And it’s not just adults who are affected. Children, too, are bearing the brunt. Parents today ‘hothouse’ their children, rushing them from one activity to another to ensure their lives are constantly enriched with stimulation. The downside, Mann writes, is that children become passively reliant on external suppliers of entertainment and engagement, and don’t know how to create their own stimulation. Hence, they get bored easily.
TV viewing has replaced active pastimes of children such as craft, sports and reading. The constant bombardment of images from the television, computers and other electronic devices means that they are growing up in a fast-paced world. This can harm children’s abilities to sustain focus on tasks that are not inherently attention-grabbing. They get used to a range of fast-moving stimuli that change at such a pace that no effort is required to sustain attention.
But while these children might appear too busy to be bored, the truth is they don’t have the staying power to persevere with something that no longer offers a buzz to them. This means that they are not able to pursue any one hobby and are more likely to take up a hobby, drop it and start a new one, writes Mann.
The Upside of Downtime is a well-researched book on our modern-day screen habits and how we cope with boredom by seeking passive stimulation. The author says that instead of running away from boredom, people should allow downtime back into their lives. She argues that boredom is a necessary evil and by moving away from constant stimuli we can bring back our creativity and imagination.