Have you noticed how we never get bored any more? We always multitask, rarely doing just the one thing. Last week I came across a number of articles about boredom and how useful – and highly unusual, nowadays – it is. I guess that is because of the summer. People find themselves with more free time, and even manage to get bored on occasion, hence the unusual increase of articles on this extraordinary feeling . Or, maybe, I just need to remember that sweet feeling.
The latest article I read on this was on Edutopia, but I remember seeing at least another one (being me, I obviously can’t remember where) about how parents should let their children get bored –and how handing them an ipad to keep them occupied is not always the answer. There was even an article on The Economist about helicopter parents who are fussing too much about their kids and who should just relax; part of the argument was that parents should let their children frolic and discover the world on their own, including getting bored from time to time.
Why am I wondering about boredom? Because I never let myself get bored any more. I usually have a ton of things to do – work or writing related. But even when all this is finished, I will read something, go out with friends, watch a film, walk the dog. There is always something to do. When driving to a client, I will make a few phone calls, both to occupy myself and to clear some of my to-do list. When cooking, I will pause to read an article on a magazine or a few pages off a book while waiting for the onions to sizzle or the water to boil. I multitask every single moment of my life. Were it not for outlets like prayer, Tai Chi and meditation, I would have burned out long ago.
My rare moments of complete boredom are habitually on the beach –thank God for Greek summers – where we go with my wife. She swims a lot (and I do mean, A LOT), while I prefer to lie back and admire the view (she has the cutest smile. Why, what did you think I was going to say?). That’s a rare moment when I will allow myself to get bored – until the cell rings. Which is great, because otherwise I start feeling guilty for not doing something productive, like reading a book, answering emails or coming up with plot twists for my epic fantasy series, Pearseus.
My generation and – I think – those after mine have been constantly lectured not to waste our time. We were taught that time is precious and we should all use it in productive ways; the word ‘boredom’ has such pejorative connotations, that it’s something nobody should end up doing. It points to missed opportunities and idle hands that should be doing something more creative. Or (lowering voice here) they work for the devil. We don’t want that now, do we?
In fact, our entire life has been organized so that we don’t lose time: school, university, job are all tightly sequenced so that we don’t fall behind. Our “prime directive” is to squeeze everything into the limited time we have, cramming everything together. We drive while talking on the cell, listening to the radio and typing an SMS. Time is money, as they say, and we abhor wasting, spending or killing it.
And yet, boredom is conducive to creativity. Research has shown that when the mind meanders, the creative process is much more productive afterwards. Doing nothing now is contributing to doing something amazing later on. Our brains are not meant to function 24/7 in high capacity. They require lazy time for respite; they demand a moment of lull to recoup; they ask for pure idleness to enjoy life. We should allow ourselves the privilege of boredom. The pleasure of shifting our minds to neutral, watching life go by for a while.
Ironically enough, this is something that I need to teach myself, because it doesn’t come naturally any more. I have been conditioned to do things a certain way; not multitasking just feels abnormal. Heck, doing anything one thing at a time is a forgotten art. When is the last time you did one thing – and only that? No music, radio or TV in the background, no multitasking, no distractions. Just the one thing.
Therefore, when my wife asked me the other day whether I would take my laptop during our holidays, nominally starting today, my first reaction was, “Of course. What if a client needs something? What if I need to check my emails?” Then, I thought back to all the posts on the benefits of boredom and I realized that what I want – no, need – is for a whole week to get bored. Do nothing but stare at salty sea drops sliding off Electra as she comes out of the water. Gaze at the light filtering through the umbrella. Listen to the sound of waves crashing at my feet. And, just for a few days, ignore the accusatory whisper in the back of my head.
I’ll let you know if I succeed in leaving that little slave-driver behind…