Digital Detox: Reclaiming Boredom

In my introductory Digital Detox post, I talked about my complicated relationship to technology. Through this series, I am trying to figure out how to use it in a way that enables, rather than disables, the things that are truly important to me. Before I get into the specifics of which platforms I’ve quit or which apps I’ve deleted, I wanted to outline some of the reasons behind why I’m doing it.

With my permission and enthusiastic assistance, technology has robbed me of a lot of good things that I want to get back. Things like quality time, deep conversation, true connection, and divine inspiration—which I have routinely traded for the cheap thrill of a new notification. And nine out of ten times, it was just another promotional email from LongHorn Steakhouse.

Here’s a list of the things I am trying to reclaim through the Digital Detox series:

Boredom & Creativity

It turns out, I am desperately in need of something that technology has rendered obsolete: boredom.

The time when I used to allow my mind to wander—in line at the grocery store, on my commute, in waiting rooms—has become filled with aimlessly scrolling through social media feeds. Days pass. Pages fly off the calendar. Although I can’t account for all the free time (time that, mathematically, I know I have), it disappears without me realizing it or knowing where it went. It’s time for me to reclaim those hours from my screen.

I recently took Note To Self’s Bored & Brilliant challenge and it opened my eyes to how averse I have become to being bored—even though those moments, historically, have been the place where my best ideas come to me. The series challenged participants to do things like store your phone in your bag (rather than in your pocket or carried in your hand) while walking, delete that one app that steals countless hours from your life, and take a digital hiatus to remember what it feels like to not be constantly checking your phone.

The benefits were clear to me immediately. I am more engaged when my attention isn’t constantly being redirected to my phone. I have more (and better) ideas when my thoughts aren’t chained to a flashing screen. Social media is a spare time killer, but spare time is where creativity happens. Creativity — the kind that stops you in your tracks and pulls you into flow state — doesn’t happen when all your time and mental energy is directed at a slow absorption of your newsfeed. My mind needs space to roam and time to think in long-form instead of quick bursts. 

Solitude & Depth

One study from the University of Virginia found that many student subjects opted to give themselves mild electric shocks rather than sit quietly with their thoughts. I can relate.

Technology has made it easy to never be alone. With a constant hum of outside voices being piped in through our smart devices, we can drown out our own thoughts indefinitely. For a lot of people, that’s the way they prefer it. Because solitude is hard. Reflection puts us face-to-face with things that we would rather not deal with. Silence is quick to reveal the messy, complex, unfiltered person underneath. Scrolling through Instagram sounds a whole lot easier. 

However, when we start to avoid solitude, we lose something of incredible importance: depth. Depth of thinking, of feeling, and of relationships. This author puts it best in her article on the topic: “Since depth is what makes life fulfilling and meaningful, it’s astounding that we’re allowing this to happen.”

We have turned time alone into a problem that needs to be solved with technology, rather than a key part of what makes us who we are. In solitude we find ourselves; it’s where we go to cultivate depth. It’s how we discover who we are and what we believe. Solitude gives us the armor we need to move through the world with a firm sense of self. 

For me, this means finding moments of quiet throughout the day to really stop and look inward. It’s so easy to keep the volume of life turned all the way up—social media, podcasts, blogs, text messages, tweets and notifications. I want to start making space for silence and self-reflection. Rather than endlessly scrolling through mindless media, I want to sit quietly with my own thoughts and see what rises to the surface. Scary, huh?

Over the next couple weeks, I’ll be walking you through some of the ways I’ve shifted my technology use to reclaim boredom, creativity, solitude, and depth in my life. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what your experience has been. When was the last time you can remember being bored?

1 Comment

  1. Love this! I was telling Thomas that this winter has been most fruitful. I was forced to lay low bc of some health issues so it looked like nothing was going on… but like the leafless, colorless trees in my yard, there was MUCH happening under the surface. I’ve had long stretches of boredom- it was FABULOUS! Bravo to you for making this choice! Love the line, "In solitude, we find ourselves." Yes.

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