Deep levels of boredom spark our ingenuity
According to a new study, the constant distraction of social media can prevent our minds from falling into a deeper and more fulfilling sense of boredom.
That’s a shame, because utter boredom can be fertile ground for innovation, Science Alert reports.
This “deep” level of boredom is different from the initial, superficial level of boredom we experience when we wait at a bus stop or can’t wait for commercials to end.
Yet that initial dip into monotony can be instantly dispelled with a single check of Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok or Facebook, meaning our boredom levels never cross into a creative zone.
“Deep boredom may sound like an extremely negative concept, but it can actually be extremely positive if people are given the opportunity to think undisturbed and develop,” says Timothy Hill, a sociologist at the University of Bath, UK.
“We must recognize that the pandemic has been a tragic, destructive, overwhelming experience for thousands of people, but we are all familiar with the stories of those who have found new hobbies, careers or directions in life amid the strict regulations.”
Hill and his colleagues examined the lives of 15 people who, during the COVID-19 pandemic, were given paid leave or asked to work from home. The age, occupations and education of participants who were from England or the Republic of Ireland varied.
“Structured interviews were conducted with the participants, in which they explained how they spent their time during the pandemic, as well as what feelings they experienced. While boredom surfaced again and again, it was often overcome through social media and so-called ‘doomscrolling’ says Timothy Hill.
People in the study who experienced deeper, more profound boredom found that it produced feelings of restlessness and emptiness. However, there is also a new drive to fill this void: passions such as carpentry, painting, writing and cycling have been discovered or rediscovered during the pandemic.
The researchers want to emphasize that many people don’t have the luxury of just sitting around doing nothing for long periods of time – and that social networks can be vital for maintaining relationships with family and friends. However, they say it’s important to note how social media affects our thinking.
“The problem we’ve seen is that networks can relieve superficial boredom, but that distraction saps time and energy and can prevent people from reaching a state of deep boredom where they might discover new passions,” says Hill.
The idea of superficial and deep boredom dates back almost 100 years, when the German philosopher Martin Heidegger gave a series of lectures. Heidegger argued that boredom is an extremely important part of life that must be cultivated.
Interestingly, in the decades since, we have developed more and more ways to avoid boredom: our minds can now be distracted 24/7 thanks to social networks and everything else that smartphones, tablets and computers offer. You don’t actually ever have to stop and get lost in thought if you don’t want to.
Other studies also show that boredom and the free wandering of the mind that comes with it is an important basis for creativity, which may be why so many good ideas come to us. The researchers behind this latest study plan to dig deeper into the topic.
“This research allowed us to understand how an always-on, 24/7 culture and devices that promise an abundance of information and entertainment may fix our superficial boredom, but actually prevent us from discovering more meaningful things,” says Hill. “Those who engage in digital detox may be on the right track.”
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