Is it Bad That We Have the Power to Choose When We Get Bored?

A young woman lying on her back in a field with a book over her face.
Photo by Tonny Tran.

You know how every once in a while an article comes out about how important it is to have downtime where you just sort of stare into the middle distance and think about nothing? When you get bored or just sort of vaguely reflect on life?

I have come to the realization that this might be the first time in human history when people have to ACTIVELY CHOOSE for this to happen. I mean, some people literally schedule time to get bored now. SCHEDULED BOREDOM. It's a THING! And it's NECESSARY for our brains to be good at being brains and what does that say about us and our lives?

It used to happen TO me: I would be waiting for something with no book or magazine at hand and so I would be left to my brain's devices for a while. I would think whatever thoughts came into my head and do nothing. It just happened, whether I wanted it to or not.

Now? Now when there is but a breath of boredom on the horizon, I have OPTIONS. I have a phone that is brimming with the internet and all its possibilities. I have Netflix. I have a zillion newsfeeds to bring fresh horrors into my life. I have dating apps where I can pass the time evaluating potential mates. And while I might actually be a bit bored while I engage with these things, my brain isn't getting a break. It's wirelessly wired in.

This means that those spacious moments of nothingness don't happen unless I CHOOSE to make them happen. I have to decide to not engage with a distraction and to give my brain some down time.

I have never been good at choosing nothing. The Andrea of the 90s and early 00s who lived a life pocketed with spontaneous "dead zones" of non-distraction? She tried to always have a book on hand. She read the backs of shampoo bottles if that was all that was available to her. So the fact that my brain's ability to rest and breathe and do all those important background-processing things it needs to do relies on my self-control is a tad worrisome.

I can't help but wonder if this shift, the shift to having to actively protect time wherein your brain and body just get to exist, is going to change something about the human experience forever.

But then again, I look around on public transit and while most people are on their phones (with a few reading books), there are still a good number of people simply staring off into space.

Are they elevated beings who are so connected to their minds and bodies they know to give themselves this space to breathe and be? Or do they just get carsick easily?

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