The Beauty of Boredom: How Technology Can Ruin Your Creativity

When was the last time you were bored? Really truly stare-at-the-wall, might-as-well-do-your-ironing-or-reorganise-your-kitchen-cupboards bored?

If you’re like most of us, it’s probably been a while. Possibly that day the Internet went down, the cable went out or that time on holiday in 2005 when the wifi was dismal.

It’s extremely difficult to be bored these days. Given the sheer number of distractions demanding our attention, we are rarely, if ever, left without something to do: there are simply too many ways of entertaining ourselves. Emails, texts, notifications, games, videos, news, likes, tweets, messages, advertisements, online shopping and an endless array of social platforms ensure there’s always something to distract us.

Ann Louise Gittleman, author of Zapped, says that ‘it is in the space between the business that our greatest ideas and inspirations arise.’ By not having such an outlet for our creativity, she explains, we are more and more often ‘shutting the inner life down, being tethered [as we are] to non-stop communications.’

We all have memories of being bored as children, and what we created or made or did with our free time as a result. The near impossibility of boredom today means there’s less of an outlet for our imaginations to be activated. The vast, unfilled and untapped creative space that free time once offered us is now occupied by our phones and computers, which we by default turn to in times of boredom. And for the most part, much of what we do on our devices in our free time requires very little creativity.

The notion of setting aside time to be bored might sound a bit odd. But when you consider what comes out of such free time, it doesn’t seem such a mad suggestion.

Larry Rosen, author of iDisorder and a professor of psychology at California State University Dominguez Hills says, ‘if you’re bored, you don’t get to have creative ideas and you don’t get to let your mind wander to interesting things’. Because technology is always present, Rosen explains, we rarely get a chance to be bored. Our screens and devices ‘suck us in and we don’t seem to realise it’s not good for us’.

Some of the greatest minds in history – Nietzsche, Steve Jobs, Beethoven – were avid walkers, who enjoyed the freedom and creative space they found while wandering in nature. They made a point to be intentionally bored, and landed on some of the most important ideas in history because of it.

Periods of boredom – or creative time, as artists or writers or inventors might call it – also help develop patience and increases attention span, both of which are hard to come by in a world of constant connection that offers up so much so quickly. Good things, we are perpetually reminded, take time. If we don’t give ourselves free time – the chance to think and work problems out for ourselves and let our minds wander – what will become of our creativity?

Srinivas Rao, the author of The Art of Being Unmistakable, suggests that in order to be able to create, we must make an effort to limit ‘inflow’, or the influx and consumption of data and information. Rao explains that through a combination of decision fatigue and decreased attention spans, constant information ‘inhibits creativity, negatively impacts our ability to do deep work and reduces out cumulative output.’ In other words, the more data you consume, the less able you are to produce creative output.

Boredom is not our enemy. On the contrary: times of slowness make space for considered thought and deep work, which in turn enable us to contribute something meaningful and lasting to the world.

The next time you reach for your phone out of habit, with no particular reason in mind, stop to consider what you could be doing instead. Stop and be bored.