I channeled my mother the other day. My daughter complained that she was bored and that she wanted to go see a movie or something. Almost on command, I heard my mom’s voice emerge from my mouth:
“If you’re bored, you’re boring.”
It was one of my mother’s go-to phrases whenever one of my brothers or me would complain about under-stimulation. I never really expected to say those words myself but when my teenaged daughter started complaining, I felt them bubble out of me. “Find something to do,” I explained to my daughter, adding my own twist to my mom’s favorite phrase.
As my daughter sullenly walked off to grab her iPad, I realized that she almost never complains about being bored. When I was her age, it was a regular complaint. But things are different now. With smartphones in our hands, we’re almost never bored anymore. We have so many distractions. Candy Crush. Trivia Crack. Instagram. Facebook. With all of this stimulation, I see people walking across campus on a beautiful sunny day staring down at their screens. It’s almost as if those boring walks across our lovely campus are just too much to bear. But boredom isn’t something to be avoided. Boredom should be celebrated and embraced. It should be fostered. At least that’s what some people are suggesting, based on some recent news reports.
Take the New York Times. A few weeks ago, they published an opinion piece about the power of boredom. One moment, the author is a bored, minimum wage employee in a kayak store. The next, she’s a researcher who’s authoring her own book. Or check out NPR. Early this year, All Things Considered aired a story called Bored and Brilliant where people agreed to put down their cellphones for a week to aid in the development of creativity. The story drew on research that showed that workers were more creative after they completed boring tasks. With smartphones and mobile devices becoming more and more ubiquitous, the Bored and Brilliant organizers argue, we’re losing the creative advantages from boredom. The weeklong event involved participants completing challenges each day and writing about their experiences. To see the full range of activities and a debriefing of the event, check We Got Bored. If a week away from your smartphone sounds a little barbaric, try a screen-free day. A few friends of mine have invoked screen-free days on the weekends to become more active and more creative.
Just to be clear, I’m not railing on smartphones or mobile devices or technologies with screens. It’s the easiness of entertainment and stimulation that’s keeping many people from experiencing boredom and possibly reaching their full creative potential. The New York Times article included a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald where he stressed “you’ve got to go… through boredom, as through a filter, before the clear product emerges.” We’re never emerging from boredom because we’re hardly ever bored. Next time my daughter complains about being bored, I plan to take a different course. Instead of quoting my mother, I’ll simply say: “You’re bored? Good. Now go try something creative.” It’s not as catchy, I know, but at least it’s more motivational.