When was the last time that you were truly bored?
In this multi-screen reality, you may have already lived you last bored moment. We live in an age of constant connectivity - very few people have time for boredom. However, psychologists argue that we need boredom in our lives to cultivate creative thinking and bright ideas.
This idea is called “radical boredom”, and it’s catching on with artists and creatives who use boredom to their advantage in their work and lives. We can learn from them to make a space for daydreams and epiphanies in our own days. It could be as simple as putting your phone away on the bus, or spending time paddling out to sea.
Interestingly, radical boredom is not a new concept - It is an idea dreamed up by Sigmund Kracauer, in 1924. Kracuar was concerned that the distractions of the modern city got in the way of creative living, in his words this created the illusion of “a life that belongs to no one and exhausts everyone.”
It goes without saying that since 1924 we have less reason to be bored. As the New York Times says, Google is so boredom-averse that it seems to change its logo every day. In fact, google chairman Eric Schmidt wrote that those “feeling bored” can always turn on the “holograph box and visit Carnival in Rio.”
Or not. There are a host of dreamers and creatives who have turned away from this kind of thinking, shut down their screen and opened themselves up to the possibilities of radical boredom. Contrary to popular belief, not only boring people get bored.
Austin Kleon, the artist and author, has another name for radical boredom. He calls it “a little self-imposed solitude and temporary captivity.” Kleon has made an active choice to incorporate boredom into his creative process. He explains that “Now I have a car and a mobile phone. I’m always connected, never alone or captive. So I ride the bus to and from work, even though it’s 20 minutes faster to drive. I keep my laptop shut down at the airport. I always carry a book, a pen and a notepad and I always enjoy my solitude and temporary captivity.”
We turn to our screens to counter boredom. The internet is the ultimate way to satisfy our instinctual urges to connect and to hunt down new information and experience. These are desires that are at the core of what makes us human. However, by this stage it is not news that our screens can also get in the way of authentic connection and experience. That is why the author Elizabeth Gilbert focuses on another innate human urge, the urge for wonder. Gilbert explains that “I can always steady my life once more by returning to my soul. I ask it, 'And what is it that you want, dear one?'"
"The answer is always the same: "More wonder, please."
So, throughout her life, Gilbert has set a timer for thirty minutes every day. She uses this time to escape distraction and dive into her creativity. Ultimately she implements the conditions for radical boredom so that she can find wonder.
Kracuar was worried that in 1924 the modern city drove us into sensory overload. It seems laughable now, in contrast to our experience of cities. Then again, it’s an idea that some cities are consciously evolving with. The city of San Paulo, for instance, banned all outdoor advertising in 2007 because of concerns with “visual pollution." Amsterdam is also mindfully changing by building benches that block wifi.
Though these measures may seem extreme, I can attest to their success. After time abroad, I returned for the first time in over a year to an English speaking country (english being my only language) and I was driven mad by the advertisements. By the time I left Heathrow airport I had been visually assaulted with advertisements on the back of the toilet door, on my luggage cart, at the train station. It was the first time that I had realised that advertisements were like little voices in my head.
They say, tongue in cheek, that home is where the wifi automatically connects. When I returned home I found myself constantly at the mercy of my phone. I missed life on the road, but most of all I missed the freedom that comes with it.
Boredom can be a form of freedom - a chance to dream, create and question. That's why we could all use more boredom in our lives.