There is a growing concern over the amount of time adults (and kids) are spending on screens either idling away time on social media, playing games or catching up on ’work’.
I get it. It’s modern life.
But, it’s not rocket science to realise that it there are real benefits to be had by disconnecting, at least every now and then, from this ‘modern life’. For your mental and (probably physical) heath. Standing up and moving around can’t be all that bad for you.
Have you walked into a cafe that has a sign up that says, ‘No, we don’t have wifi. Talk to each other’. Then laughed and sat down? Or did you find another cafe?
For the record, not everyone is a fan of boredom. German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer believed boredom was evidence of the meaninglessness of life.
In his work ‘On the Vanity of Existence’ he describes boredom as a bird of prey which which ‘hovers over every secure life’ and that “… boredom is a direct proof that existence is in itself valueless, for boredom is nothing other than the sensation of the emptiness of existence.”
Cracking bloke to have a beer with, old Chuckles Schopenhauer.
Then there are those who argue there are real dangers in not allowing ourselves to be bored.
Bertrand Russell, for instance who, after spending time in prison himself, suggested that prison may be the ideal setting for a creative person. (…and without making a big deal off it, we are all creative people). Russell said, "A generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men, of men unduly divorced from the slow process of nature, of men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers as though they were cut flowers in a vase.”
Granted, prison is a little extreme…plus there's the whole showering thing.
Another who proclaimed the benefits to be found in quiet contemplation was Blaise Pascal. Not a stripper but a 17th century French mathematician who, in his work Pensees (Thoughts), said “All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
Boredom can be a stimulus for change. Simply the fear of being bored can be catalyst for invention. For imagination. If we allow it to be. But we don’t. First sign of spare time and we start scrolling through social media, checking an email, handing a child an iPad so that Mum and Dad can have some time to talk, for “Christ’s sake!”
Remember when you were bored as a kid and how inventive you became when left to your own devices (that weren’t devices)? You had to, right?
You had to dig around inside your own head for an idea or start doing one thing that led to another thing which led to another and before you know it Mum was calling you inside for dinner.
Contemplation is a real casualty of our age.
I’m not anti tech. I like tech. I probably checked Facebook half a dozen times while I was supposed to be writing this. So trust me, I know what I’m talking about.
So what if I asked you to turn your devices off?
I know, insane.
It takes sacrifice. Boredom is a good habit and we all now it's easier to create bad habits than good ones.
‘Yeah, that’s great Pete, but what am I supposed to do once I turn everything off, which by the way, would never happen. I'd rather give you my first born than turn off my phone. But still, I'll humour you…now what?’
This is the bit I like the best.
You will go though the seven stages of Grief 2.0.
Stage 1: You feel abandoned. Cut off. Scared. Alone.
Stage 2: You start to fidget. Sweat forms on your brow.
Stage 3: Your eyes dart across to the screen of the person nearest you. You start mentally liking the photos you can see on their Instagram feed.
Stage 4: You massage the phone in your pocket or stroke it as it lies next to you on the table.
Stage 5: You rub your eyes. Massage your head. Start convincing yourself your having medical episode.
Stage 6: You stare straight ahead. Mind slowly seizes up.
Stage 7: and then…you start waking…
Was Pascal right? Do we have an ‘inability’ to sit alone in a room?
Once you get to stage 7, here’s what you do: You pick up a pencil. (If it makes you feel better remember that a pencil (or a pen) is technology too!). Then, add a blank sheet of paper ( if you don't have a blank sheet of paper you can go to my website - www.peternerner.com - follow the link to ‘blank paper’ and print off as much blank paper as you need. Free. Seriously, that's how much of a good bloke I am.)
And start doodling.
“What do I doodle?”, you ask.
“I don’t care”, I say “Anything. Make a mark. Write a word. Cross it out. Draw a dog. Just start. Draw anything”
“But I can't draw…”
“Jesus, you are such a whiney little snot.”
You can draw! Sure, you can't draw well! But you swim and you'll never be Ian Thorpe, the fact you'll never be Steve Waugh doesn't stop you picking up a cricket bat…so not being Leonardo Da Vinci shouldn't stand in the way of picking up a pencil and drawing something.
Don’t worry about the outcome. The fact you can’t draw gives you the freedom to draw badly.
If you buy a notebook you will slowly start to fill it up and it is amazing how much fun it can be to go back through your own thoughts, scribbles, doodles.
Do someone you know a favour and share this article on how we should turn off screens and sit a bit.
If you like Peter's outlook, you need to check out his new book, The Book of They. It's an absurdist take on normal life you won't want to miss.