Alexis Megdanoff: It's OK to be bored

Tuesday, January 24, 2017 - 10:50am

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to live a life consisting of less phone time, including checking it less often throughout the day. Current status: little to no progress. At this point, all I have done is forgotten to bring my phone a few times when I go to leave for class. When I do have it, I still check it directly before and after my classes, during meals and any other spare moment in between.

I am addicted to checking texts, emails, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, weather and every other type of notification or app that can immediately give me information on what is going on in the world. If my phone screen does not light up throughout the day, I assume something is amiss or I am out of the loop that I feel I need to be “in.” Even while writing this, I have been distracted several times by the little blue notification light on my phone screen even though I know it is an email that does not need a reply right now.

As I walk around campus, I see I am not the only one whose life is driven by the number of dings their phone emits every day. This lifestyle is what leads to publications and blog posts titled “I quit social media for a month,” as if the act is a life-changing moment that the world needs to know. But perhaps one of the subtlest effects of social media is our habits of turning to these sites when we have nothing else to do. Instead, we should be turning to the friends and environment around us for inspiration.

This is not an attempt to bash social media; there are many useful and enjoyable aspects of these platforms, and it would be hypocritical of me to call for a complete ban when I have no intention of deleting my own accounts any time soon. No, this is a call to begin resisting the urge to check your social accounts when you have nothing else to do. I want you allow yourself to be bored.

Traditionally, the possibility of boredom is seen as a negative. There are many studies suggesting boredom leads to a decrease in academic success; however, there are also studies that define several types of boredom that have a positive effect on individuals. According to one study, “indifferent boredom” is one such type that leaves someone in a calm state with generally positive feelings. We must put ourselves in these situations. 

When boredom is positive, research shows more creativity is expressed afterward. In a study at the University of Central Lancashire, participants involved in a boring activity were able to report a higher number of solutions to a creative problem afterward than those who did not complete the boring activity. Therefore, when we give in to our urges to turn to our phone when we are not being stimulated by something else, we are not allowing our later selves to generate positive creativity that is crucial to success.

There have been many times throughout the last few years in which adults who are a generation or two older have asked me if I could ever live without my phone. Mostly it has been in a joking manner, but I am realizing that for many people my age, the answer is a terrifying no. I do not believe this is solely because we are unable to socialize face to face, but research shows that social gratification can entice a higher rate of phone usage.

Many millennials will argue filling their bored moments with social media and screen time is not a waste of time, that they are using their resources to scan through breaking news or building friendships virtually. This may be true at times, but often those short news clips turn into viral videos starring cats and people making fools of themselves. This is clearly not the best society has to offer.

Knowing this, I propose we all have something better to do with our boredom. While there is no magical activity that will inspire greatness in everyone, everyone does have something else they could be engaged in that has higher benefits than social media.

I am not suggesting we all stop using our social media accounts right now and never turn back. I am suggesting we begin to accept our feelings of boredom and turn them toward an activity that promotes creativity within ourselves. It could be reading a book that has been on your list for years, completing a project you started a while ago or even taking a nap. Whatever it is, channel all your social media urges into this new task. A piece of advice: It helps if you leave your phone behind when you go engage in this activity. Trust me, Twitter will still be there when you finish.

Alexis Megdanoff can be reached at amegdano@umich.edu.