On our morning commute to work, a colleague and I play a game called "Train Face." The rules are simple: We board the train at the same time and the first person to see someone smiling wins. Not surprisingly, we often go miles with no smiles, the winner usually spotting a vacation smile as we near Union Square. Interestingly, what makes the game most difficult to win is not a plague of the "Monday's." It is the inability to see anybody's face properly. Most people have their chin tucked into their chest, eyes glued to a phone, passing time with the Internet. It dawned on me with the technology in our pocket we always have something we could be doing, and it got me thinking, "Is anyone ever bored anymore?"
Boredom is a state of weariness from being unoccupied or from lacking interest in our current activity. By disconnecting from our environment and connecting with our e-vironment we do not give boredom enough time to set in. Once dropped into our device we can always be occupied, and before we can tire of what is on the screen computer generated prediction algorithms recommend new content they know we will like. Games like Words with Friends advertise for more games like Dice with Buddies, our Facebook "news" feed links to what's trending on Youtube, and "articles" like "The 38 Most Absolutely Absurd Things That Happen In Sharknado 2" suggests we read "The Top 10 Scientific Reasons to Eat More Pizza". It is impossible to be bored while using a smartphone.
With the help of technology, humans have transformed into talented boredom avoiders. Professional time taker uppers. Skillful texters, tweeters and buzzfeeders. We have become such experts at mindlessly occupying our time that we have created a huge problem. When we choose to pass time in this fashion we are trading our shot at mindfulness for shots of mindlessness -- our awareness for a never-ending distraction. If you are not convinced, ask yourself this:
Are you aware of what you are doing right now?
Think about how you came across this blog. Were you deliberately seeking out healthy living information or did you stumble upon it in a daze while sitting on your toilet? Dull moments in our days are inevitable, but we have a choice of how we will respond to them. Are we medicating with technology or are we noticing the experience? Numbing out or building coping skills? Avoiding the uncomfortable feelings or reconstructing our days to be less boring?
A bit of boredom is a good thing. It is a place in our day for reflection, creativity, and spontaneity. Ideas originate inside bored minds because they do not want to be bored any longer. Sports, music, travel, literature, art, and "Train Face" were invented because people wanted something new to do. Anything we choose to do with our brains while bored will be more rewarding in the long run than zoning out into technology land. Do not replace a dull moment with a distraction from a stupid cellphone. Rather, embrace your boredom with a smile and resist the impulse to fill it with something mindless. Who knows what you will come up with.