Ebling on Disconnecting: Boring is Good for You

If you search the web, you’ll find quite a few articles with the title “The Importance of Being Bored”. While different people make different points (and grind their ow axes), the general thrust is that when you are “bored”, your brain is free to think creatively. “Boredom” is argued to be good for children and for creativity at any age.

Me, I’m a big fan of “boredom.” It’s one of keys to a good life.

This has become an important topic in sociotechnical studies: we have more and more screens, now including an interactive television in our pocket at all times. Not only is there no need to be “bored”, there is little possibility to do so. We are being entertained and connected to death, some would say.

After a recent experience spending three days without my mobile phone (the battery was about to explode….no choice but to turn it off until fixed), I am well aware of the addictive dependence we have on the constant mental stimulation of the digital world. And I’m a pretty minimal user.

So it is interesting to see Maria R Ebling, the Editor In Chief of IEEE Pervasive Computing, write about “The Importance of Being… Bored. In fact, she was riffing off an NPR series, “Bored and Brilliant”, which challenged listeners to “turn off their phone” and other actions to cultivate “boredom”.

“What does this have to do with pervasive computing? Consider the last time you were bored and what you did? Did you pull out your smartphone and check your email? Play a game? Watch a video? Smartphones provide and endless stream of entertainment (as long as your battery is charged). We never have to be bored! And if we never have to be bored, are we losing the potential time to daydream and find creative, imaginative solutions to important problems?”
(p. 5 )

Quite. And way more than that may be at stake.

Ebling reports on her own six days of “Bored and Brilliant” challenges. She discovered that many of the “important” messages she missed weren’t so important, she deleted two time-waster apps and doesn’t miss them, and discovered a place where everyone was offline, and it was nice.

It was not only possible, it was generally great to disconnect!

Ebling gives us a really good take away from her experience: “remember to be purposeful about when to use technology.

Amen, sister Maria!

She has also begun to issue her own “challenges” in each issue, to persuade practitioners to think deeply about these issues. Her first challenge is see whether your own social media use enhances or detracts from “boredom”. (p. 7) Her second challenge is a “no phones at dinner” challenge, which I have always done. (What sane person would think it is OK to fiddle with phones at a communal meal?)

I’m not sure this is having much effect (look at the rest of IEEE Pervasive Computing, it’s full of poorly thought out really bad ideas, that exhibit no effort to be “purposeful”.  But more power to you, Ms. Ebling.


 

  1. Maria R. Ebling, The Importance of Being… Bored. Pervasive Computing, IEEE, 14 (2):5-8, 2015.

 

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