Oh great, another stupid article about disconnecting from phones. I can’t wait to read about this dude on the internet who had some revelation that too much time staring at a screen is a bad thing. What a unique perspective!
So yes, I am going to be adding my voice, with some hesitation, to this chorus. Why? Because I have started to realize the benefits of putting away my phone during times I never thought to be a problem. Instead of scrolling through Reddit whenever I have a few free minutes, I have found value in allowing myself to simply think my thoughts.
I used to really push back against such criticism of technology. I wasn’t a heavy user and didn’t really understand those who allowed technology, phones specifically, to consume their lives. But I came to find that even though my phone time wasn’t consuming my schedule or directly conflicting with my life, I was using it to fill all the little tiny cracks in my day. Whenever I had a few minutes to kill (in a waiting room, on the toilet), I would whip out my phone.
“What else would I be doing?” I would say. It’s not like I could be highly productive staring at a wall or the bathroom floor. Why not entertain myself? And this thought began to penetrate other “downtimes” in my life. Come home from work, play on my phone. Lunch break, play on my phone. Before bed, play on my phone. All of a sudden, every free moment in my life was consumed by my phone.
Is that a problem? I’m just staving off boredom, so how can that be a bad thing? Well, more and more research is telling us that boredom is actually a good thing. Being bored is when we, you know, get to think about things. When we go over the day’s events, work out problems in our head, engage in creative thoughts… it’s when we think!
When every free second of our lives is our face in a screen, we are no longer thinking or trying to solve problems. Combined with the many known negative effects of social media, we begin to lose a sense of self-control. And it turns out, feeling that you are in control of your own life is also a pretty important thing.
So while I never considered myself a “heavy user” of screens, I began to notice many of these negative consequences appearing in my life. Stress, anxiety, depression, these things are all too common not just in my life, but in others I know as well.
How we interact with this new technology is fundamentally changing the way we think. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Personally, I love being able to look up every single useless bit of trivia without having to remember it. But too much of anything is bad and that is just as true of phones/screen/social media/etc.
We have heard all the usual advice before. No screens before bed. Turn off notifications. No phones at the dinner table. It’s all good advice. But for me, the best thing I have done is simply allow myself to be bored more often. It’s okay to just stare at a wall and think. It’s okay to sit on the toilet and ponder life.
Being bored has given me a tangible sense of creativity that I hadn’t realized I lost. When you are bored, you crave activities to fill your time. My productivity and motivation has increased. I am writing more and making more plans. In a sense, I feel renewed and all I did was allow myself to be bored.
Technology is a wonderful and amazing thing. The internet, social media, and smartphones have changed our lives arguably for the better. I am so excited about technology and what is still to come. But it’s also just as important to recognize that you can make technology a tool or it can make you the tool. Like everything else in life, you have to understand how to best utilize technology without going overboard.
Look, allowing yourself to “be bored” isn’t going to cure all your problems. Turning off your notifications isn’t going to fix mental health issues in the world. All I know is that for me, for one person, being aware of how I interact with technology has improved my life. I hope it will for you too. Be bored.