lifestyle

I never get bored anymore

Overwhelmed is the new bored.  Seriously, when was the last time you were bored? Let me clarify that. When was the last time you were bored for any length of time?

“I haven’t been bored since the 90s,” someone told me this week and I agreed. At first, I presumed it was because that’s when I had my first child and it’s hard to be bored when you’re busy. Or is it? In fact, lots of things can keep you occupied while simultaneously boring your pants off. Things like housework. Or commuting. Doing your BAS. Or pushing swings.

Anyway, it’s not just parents who have replaced boredom with overwhelm. It’s an epidemic. I think boredom started dying in the 90s because that’s when mobile devices and technology began sucking the dull bits out of our lives and replacing them with…. endless distractions. There’s just no time to be bored anymore, no opportunity. We’re too busy with choice, with connectivity, with Facebook friends and Twitter followers and Linked-In requests and endless YouTube videos of cats and interesting articles to read and a billion photos and home movies sitting idle on our computers, taunting us.

We seem to have misplaced the pause button on the remote that controls our lives. For example, work is no longer contained by anything. Not geography, not time of day, not weekends, not even illness (have you noticed how sick days have now become – ‘I’ll work from home today’?). Same goes for our social lives. Staying home on Saturday night? Your friends can still find you via social media and your phone!

Mostly, all this suits me because I’ve always been someone who prefers constant distraction.  I’ve never been one for contemplating my navel in a quiet room.

Even if I wanted to contemplate something, quiet rooms don’t exist in my house. Small children are averse to closed doors and the concept of solitude so we don’t even have rooms really. Just one giant communal space which includes bathrooms and a roving cast of family members and pets. If I’m ever alone, I substitute radio, TV, my laptop, iPhone or iPad so I’m always swimming in some kind of mentally stimulated soup.

Suddenly, every boring gap in our lives can be filled. Traffic lights, queues, walking to your car, waiting for a doctor’s appointment, riding the bus, even sitting on the loo is an opportunity to do something else (it’s astonishing how often you notice this in public toilets now, people having phone conversations in the next cubicle, I can only imagine how many more are using their phones silently).

I remember saying “I’m bored” often as a kid.

My own kids rarely say it and while I’d love to think it’s because they’re highly imaginative and content to play with sticks in the garden, I fear it’s because they’ve known how to work the iPad and the IQ since they were toddlers.

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The boredom we experienced as kids just doesn’t exist anymore. There’s always something on a screen to distract children and for adults, our mobile devices serve the same purpose.

Almost every boring activity and idle moment can now be diverted with a sneaky peak at your phone. If boredom is an itch, that’s how we scratch it now, with our smartphones.

“Phones aren’t about making phone calls anymore,” agrees Genevieve Bell, The Director of Interactive and Experience Research at Intel. “Blackberries, iphones, androids, ipads, tablets…all mobile devices make this promise to us: you’ll never be bored. You’ll never be without something to do.”

Clearly, this is why I’m so wild about my mobile devices. Short concentration span. Low boredom threshold. And yet….

“It’s clear that we like to be stimulated, but our brain needs time to process the information,” cautions Bell. “Boredom is quite important, it’s a way of creating a space for creative thought.”

This is true. I’m often asked how I come up with ideas for this column and while I have no clue where they come from I can tell you WHEN they come: while I’m exercising or in the shower. Sometimes they also come when I’m driving, so long as I’m not checking my messages at traffic lights. When I’m feeding the distraction monster, my creativity ducks out to grab a latte.

To think creatively or solve problems, we need mental space, which is becoming the rarest of commodities.

Will future generations be less creative because their brains never get the thinking push that boredom forces on you?

I also wonder if this constant stimulation is actually making us MORE easily bored; that our tolerance for inactivity is whittling down to microseconds. Mine sure is. Am I the only one who finds it easier to be overwhelmed than bored?

“It’s harder to be bored than ever,” concurs Genevieve Bell, “but what are we so frightened of? The challenge is that it’s easy to live in a world where we are connected all the time. We should periodically turn these (mobile) devices off.” As someone who works for Intel, she’s obviously a fan of technology and its many benefits “But I worry that it means we won’t do enough thinking and we don’t get to spend enough time reflecting.”

Reflecting? What’s that? I have to find my phone.

When was the last time you were truly bored? Do you allow yourself to get bored?