Some people say that the world drastically changed on June 29th, 2007, the day of sale of the first iPhone. In my opinion, this is the true beginning of the age of distraction. Smart phones changed everything. We could literally carry the world with us a all times, with almost everything available to us at any moment. This seems pretty good right? But there is a really dark side to all this quick and easy engagement and distraction.
Distraction is a Nasty Habit
Distraction and diversion are addictive. Humans are genetically driven to seek engagement as part of the survival instinct. In the past, it kept us on the move thinking and doing things to ensure our survival against potential threats. Our ancestors probably always kept themselves busy hunting, building better shelters, and defending themselves against outside threats.
Because we are hard-wired to avoid doing nothing, we find the path of least resistance to keep ourselves engaged. In the past, it was not so easy to distract ourselves from being bored. For our ancestors there was very little passive engagement. All their engagement was hard fought and productive.
Even just a few years ago we had to be much more active in seeking out engagement. We had to go to the video store, we went out with friends for coffee and if we wanted to find some information, you had to go to the library. We still have this drive to always be engaged, but it has become so easy to satiate it that our tolerance for it has gone sky high. We’re addicted.
Today is a double whammy for addictive distraction.
First, because the basic tasks of living are so easily achieved, we have far more time on our hands. We don’t have to grow your vegetables, or churn some butter before dinner. Second, there is so much distraction and diversion available that most of us fill that extra time with easily obtained passive engagement. TV, Internet, and social media now offer a constant flow of passive engagement that fills all of our down time and distracts us from life.
So we are hard-wired to crave easy engagement and there is so much of it available.
All this distraction is eroding our life satisfaction. A lot of us spend our days at a job we don’t really like and then come home, eat dinner, and spend the rest of the evening watching TV or surfing the web. It’s no wonder we are so unfulfilled.
Our downtime could be used to examine our lives, change our situation, or do things that really make us feel alive, but because it has become so easy to tranquilize ourselves with passive engagement that offers temporary escape, our lives remain stagnant. Also, because we have so much passive engagement, we have built a really high tolerance for it and we need more and more of it to satisfy us. This makes it even harder to break out of the passive engagement cycle to change our lives.
Boredom Can Make Our Lives More Satisfying
It seems counter-intuitive to say that boredom can help us live a satisfying life, but it’s true. If we allow ourselves to do nothing instead of immediately flipping on the TV, or grabbing our phone, we begin to realize that those things were just distracting us from things we really wanted to do. By allowing ourselves to be bored we do a few things. First, boredom quickly makes us realize how much time we actually have in a day.
When I first let boredom back into my life by not watching TV or going on my phone, I would stare at the clock and realize that I had five hours to kill before bedtime. Part of me almost wished that I could skip the five hours of doing nothing and go straight to bed. That was a scary thought: I had worked all day only to want to fast forward the part of my day that I was supposed be looking forward to!
Boredom makes us realize what we actually want to do. When I was not distracting myself with easy entertainment that numbed my brain, I actively began looking for other things to do, but things that were more meaningful. I decided to finally read a book I had been wanting to for over six months, the one I had told myself I didn’t have time for.
Finally, boredom increases our tolerance for slower and harder yet ultimately more rewarding activities. When we give up easy distraction and diversion, our brains begin to recover and we're able to endure slower activities like reading, writing in a journal, building a model airplane, or even a long term goal that we never seem to get around to.
So let boredom destroy the distraction that holds us back in life!