The last ten years of my life have been incredibly busy. My week days are pretty much packed from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, with very little down time and, with running two businesses, my weekends get even busier. I am rarely alone except for the regular 45 minute car rides to one of my teaching jobs and then I am either listening to a podcast or talking to someone on the phone about some work-related issue. With everything I have going on in my life, combined with the constant stream of media that technology supplies, I am almost never bored. And my life is the poorer for it.
I am not alone in being busy nor in having permanent access to entertainment. When was the last time you found yourself simultaneously without a task to accomplish and without access to music, movies, TV, or social media? If you are like me, those moments are rare and almost always accidental, perceived as moments of great inconvenience: the day you forgot your phone at home or the night the internet went down on your block. My last moment like that was over the holiday break, the only time of year I have days off.
I dropped my phone on Christmas Eve, further shattering an already cracked screen, and to continue using it would have meant driving glass shards into my thumbs. It was the perfect storm. With the holiday, I knew all the stores would be either closed or completely overrun with people returning gifts, certainly not a situation I wanted to brave without the ability to check my feed or stream some podcast. I mean, how would I cope? So instead, I was forced to put my phone on the nightstand and go on with my holiday plans, without my entertainment/productivity lifeline tucked conveniently in my pocket. And it sucked. At first.
For the first 24 hours, I swear, I felt phantom text alerts in my pocket. I was walking around and would feel what I thought was my phone vibrating away only to reach into my pocket and be reminded my phone was not with me. When I wasn’t receiving ghost texts, I was thinking about what emails I might be missing or what breaking news might be happening right now. It was a major, uncomfortable adjustment. I felt disconnected and worried and bored, a constant hunger for a way to augment my present moment, as if the present moment and my own experience of it was not enough.
This is our world now. It is not enough go to a concert, we have to livestream it to our friends. It’s not enough to ride the bus and look out the window, we have to also be listening to an audiobook. We don’t just have one job, we have our money gig and our real work. We live in the world of side hustles and smart phones. And there is a cost to this split attention, this constant overbooking of our lives. We lose our willingness to sit with ourselves in boredom. We feel as if every moment should be filled and our attention held by something outside ourselves. But boredom can be a wonderful thing. It can spawn creativity and deep thought. Boredom provides a space in which you can experience the emotions you’ve had to tamp down and power through in order to get your many jobs done. Boredom is not a bad word. It is a beautiful thing. Those moments of quiet are the ones in which you can actually listen and hear what has been going on underneath the tidal wave of your waking life.
I am not wagging a finger here. This is for me too, maybe most of all. I need to build some moments of quiet into my life. I need to sit in those quiet moments and listen to myself, remind myself that the moments I am in are full of possibility and that I am enough. We could all use some reminding. A couple days after breaking my phone, I found myself relaxed and recharged. The inane, job-related chatter in my head died down and I had sparks of creativity. The well replenished and the quiet brought me a few days of peace.
There is beauty in being bored. Before the universe began, there was emptiness. Sometimes the void brings the light. Now go break your phone.