Boredom isn’t what it used to be. Boredom used to be the absence of stimuli, the lack of interest in any available activity. Boredom was being left alone with your thoughts.
Today, though, boredom has taken on a new character. Today, boredom is the presence of a screen and an ever-scrolling timeline of social media. What used to be staring blankly at a wall or into the sky has been transformed to staring vacantly into a glowing rectangle.
When we were children and teenagers, boredom seemed like a bad thing, because idle hands are the devil’s workshop, right? But boredom should not be confused with idleness. Idleness is laziness and indolence. It is refusing to do what needs to be done. But boredom is simple inactivity, a break from the hustle and bustle and busyness of life. Boredom is the pause between activities or the deliberate escape from activity altogether.
Something happens to us when we are outside the flow of constant stimuli. It is then that our brains switch into a higher mode, that they begin to mull over ideas, that they begin to convert information into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom. We can’t stop our brains. We can’t not think. We can’t not ponder. It is in these times of boredom that we are struck by unexpected thoughts, that our brains suddenly burst with new ideas, that our minds are stimulated with fresh insights. Boredom fosters ingenuity and genius. It even fosters godliness.
It used to, at least. But today, in every moment of boredom, our hands drop to our pockets or purses to withdraw our ever-present glowing rectangles. We push that button, we tap that app, we swipe and we scroll. We give our brains the stimulus of friends’ pictures, clickbait headlines, meaningless listicles, and never-ending fail videos. Our brains never slip into that higher mode, they never have time to ponder, to consider, to meditate. Our glowing rectangles are stealing from us something that is precious.
Today, more than ever, we need to introduce—no, reintroduce—boredom into our lives. We need it for the sake of our minds, for the sake of our hearts, for the sake of our knowledge and wisdom and godliness. We need to deliberately step outside the flow of constant stimulus. We need to make time to be bored.