Recently I was bored and started to think about, well, boredom. Boredom is something most people tend to shy away from, especially in the 21st century. Any time we have a dull moment – in the elevator, on the subway, in an uber, we find our heads buried in our cell phones. It’s not like what we’re looking at is particularly interesting: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest – they’re all essentially just distractions. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of worse ways to distract yourself and some of these sites actually do have lots of social and educational benefits, but let’s get one thing clear: these are all nothing more than distractions from boredom.
We are living in a time in human history unlike any other. I’d like to call it “The Age of Instatainment”. Sure, generations before us had ways to burn time: newspapers, television, and radio, but none of them had an instantaneous cure for unexpected boredom the way we do. The minute boredom creeps in we can knock it out with a clean right hook by pulling out our cell phone. Waiting room at the doctor’s office? Phone. Long line at the RMV? Phone. Person arguing with the only available bank teller? Phone. These examples were times of unexpected and immense boredom for my parents. My grandparents probably had even more opportunity to be bored. I’m pretty sure my great-grandparents spent the majority of their day bored. When unanticipated boredom struck, they had no other choice but to sit through it. We don’t. The Age of Instatainment is an amazing technological achievement, but it is robbing us of a human right: the right to be bored.
Ask any person where they do their best thinking and most people will give you the same answer: The shower. Ah, the mystical shower, with its famous muses: Neutrogena and Garnier Fructis. What is it about the shower that inspires such creativity? What is it about that quiet, lonely, stimulus-free environment that prompts such ingenious thought? It’s boredom, that’s what it is. The shower is the one place where we feel okay with being bored. It’s the one place we give ourselves permission to let our mind wander free, unhinged, undistracted, unfocused. It is the last vestige of boredom in the West.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: It’s okay to be bored. I’m actually going to go a tiny bit further and tell you an even larger secret: you should actively seek out the opportunity to be bored. Believe it or not, people actually get together and pay money just for the right to be to be bored as a group. Of course, they don’t call the class “Group Boredom” – nobody would sign up for that; instead, they call it “Meditation”, and people go bananas over it. Why wouldn’t they? Being bored is part of human nature, and it plays an important role in our way of life.
No human ever did anything of importance while they were entertained. Would Mozart have been inspired to compose “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” if he had the opportunity to spend his evenings binging series after series on Netflix? That Isaac Newton guy – do you think he would have ever noticed an apple falling from a tree and come up with the goddamn Theory of Gravity if he was struggling to get the dog filter on Snapchat to work? And lastly, what about Ug, the first guy to ever make a drawing on a cave wall – do you think he would have mashed up those berries and started finger painting if he had a WiFi connection inside that prehistoric cave? No. All of these people did all of these things because they were bored. And for that, we cannot thank them enough.
Do me a favor: The next time you’re getting your car washed, or waiting at the bus stop, or sitting on the toilet (admit it, you do it), resist the urge to pull out your cell phone. Sit back, close your eyes, and lose yourself in the boredom. Embrace it. You’ll be surprised what that tricky little guy inside your skull will produce.
Lastly, remember this: Boredom is your friend. It is a driver of human ingenuity and more importantly, it is a time for you to get to know the one person who matters most in your life: yourself. Don’t throw that gift away, especially not to look at pictures of your old math teacher’s trip to the Bahamas. You’re more important, and he looks terrible in a Speedo. Learn to enjoy your own company. After all, you’re the only person you’re stuck with for life.