I canít remember the last time I was bored ó and according to studies about creativity, this is a bad thing. It seems that we require fallow times to recharge and propel our thinking to a higher level.
This makes complete sense. Itís boredom that makes us want to grab a book and learn something new or escape into an unfamiliar landscape, play music, paint, take photos or otherwise engage in a satisfying creative activity. But thanks to the endless entertainment options provided via our hand-held devices, pads, tablet and laptops we now never have to worry about ever not being amused. From blogs to feature films, music, TV shows, social media and the websites of obscure cult figures, thereís no shortage of things to create diversion.
The loss of human creativity via mass media has been predicted since the early days of radio. This idea really came into the mainstream with Neil Postmanís brilliant 1985 text, Amusing Ourselves To Death, which examined the effect of TV on culture. He saw that it wasnít good. We were being told what to think and how to think and for the most part apathetically moving along.
Postmanís book was inspired by the futuristic text Brave New World, Aldous Huxleyís 1932 tome that predicted a grim and complacent 26th century London, where the citizens were controlled by their addiction to amusement. Huxley was only off by about 500 years and the assertion that it would be a pleasure drug ó referred to as soma ó that would weaken human beings and make it easier for governments and corporations to control us. Instead of soma weíve got the Internet and weíre simultaneously experiencing overload and a fear of disconnection. Weíve become willing slaves to the tiny screen of devices that seem welded to the ends of arms.
Culturally, weíve developed a fear of missing out ó whether that pertains to work, social or personal life ó that has grown so great that 24/7 accessibility is the norm. Constant connection is now seen as a reasonable expectation despite the fact itís killing us. Work-life balance, that early millennial mantra, is becoming more of a New Age joke as we close in our first truly digital decade. While someone might be on a nine-day fortnight at work, chances are theyíre still checking their emails on that tenth day. Many people admit to checking their email being one of the last things they do before going to sleep and the first thing they do upon waking. Others habitually flick between news sites, taking in a vast amount of fact, figures and opinions only to see the data disappear into the ether as they change screens. The demand for, and flow of, information is greater than ever and scientists are saying our brains simply arenít built for this level of stimulation. Weíre taking in more than we can process and itís stressing us out. Emails are fired off at break-neck speed, Twitter feeds perpetually spew forth information and texts whip back and force between hand-held devices Ö no wonder fallow time is scant. (Current estimates of media consumption for North Americans averages 11 hours per day.)
Iím not sure what this will mean for my kidsí generation or the ones that follow. However, I do know that I want to experience the gentle ennui that accompanies unwanted idleness. Iím going to try an experiment this week. One workday and one leisure day this week I am parking the beast ó no Internet, not even email. I expect this experiment will be a challenge, but Iím curious what itíll yield. Iíll let you know next column.