How To Do Nothing: The Impossibility of Boredom in Modern Times

Last week after class, I couldn’t stop thinking about someone’s (sorry, I forgot whose!) comment that boredom doesn’t really seem to exist the way that it used to. I remember countless Saturday afternoons as a kid spent lying on the living room carpet whining to my mom that I was sooo bored and that there was absolutely nothing to do. She’d always recommend playing outside or reading a good book, and those options never sounded appealing.

Upon further reflection, I realized that I while I remember being bored as a kid, I can’t remember the last time I was bored. If I start to feel antsy waiting in a long line, I pull out my phone and Yik Yak entertains me until it’s my turn. When I’m home after a long day of class, I turn straight to Netflix for a quick episode of Friends before beginning homework. Between classes, work, my social life, my email inbox, my favorite blogs, social media, online news, the online job hunt for after graduation, calling home to talk to my family, and a few other activities, my days are all completely booked. If I’ve got 20 minutes to kill, I’ll pull out my phone. I’m always busy, and I’m always plugged in.

I set out to do some research on boredom in the modern era, and I found this interesting article published by Psychology Today (link below) that explains that we don’t really see any mention of boredom in historic records until about the late 18th century. The author explains that in the days of hunting and gathering, people didn’t really complain about or experience boredom in the way that people do in modern times. Boredom arose when culture advanced and entertainment was widespread, cheap, and easily accessible. The author predicts that “as opportunities for entertainment proliferated, people began to compare their daily experience to the adventure and romance and glamour of the worlds they could experience through entertainment.” Essentially, we created the concept of boredom when we taught ourselves that we should be able to be entertained all the time.

I predict that we’re entering the next phase in historical development: just as quickly as boredom appeared, we will see it disappear. Now we are SO entertained and SO connected that we get nostalgic for the feeling of boredom… or at least I do. I would absolutely love a day where I had no emails, no work, no internet, and no commitments. We are so connected and so plugged in that we’re actually seeing it start to wear away at our mind and bodies. We’re now in an era where people have to teach themselves HOW TO unplug and HOW TO DO NOTHING (i.e. yoga and meditation). We’ve forgotten how to be bored, and we’ve forgotten its benefits. Boredom used to open my mind to new activities, new ideas, and often times, some much needed down time or self-reflection. Now that I’ve lost the ability to feel bored, I rarely find myself trying new activities or pushing myself out of my routine. I rarely make time to unplug and do something for myself, and I think it’s extremely detrimental to my well being. What do you guys think? What were some of the best parts of boredom? Do you ever feel bored? Do you miss it?