In Defense of Boredom
Boredom is dead. The internet killed it.
Like hunger, boredom is a signal that encourages us to take action. Go too long without eating and you’ll become overwhelmed with hunger. Go too long without doing something productive and you’ll become overwhelmed with boredom.
The problem is that the internet offers us so many ways to feel productive. We can read books, scroll a newsfeed, listen to a podcast. With the click of a button, we can do anything and everything.
We cured boredom in the same way that the United States cured hunger: by making junk so widely available that no one ever stops eating. The problem is obesity, not starvation.
The internet has replaced boredom with addiction. We’ve become dependent on an endless stream of content to keep us entertained. Bo Burnham’s verse in Welcome to the Internet captures this perfectly:
Could I interest you in everything, all of the time?
A little bit of everything, all of the time
Apathy’s a tragedy and boredom is a crime
Anything and everything, all of the time
But boredom is actually a good thing.
Let’s be clear: allowing yourself to be bored in a world of endless entertainment is not easy. Doing nothing is harder than clicking that next link. It forces you to consider why you’re bored and what you can do about it.
Boredom is a signal that you need to change something. Being bored for too long means you’re in the wrong place. Working on the wrong thing.
Boredom is the opposite of addiction. It’s a feeling that we’re hardwired to avoid as much as possible. Writers know this, which is why they have a rule: minimize distractions. Stephen King doesn’t let himself leave his writing room until he’s written 1,000 words, no exceptions. He describes his writing process in his memoir, On Writing:
So okay – there you are in your room with the shade down and the door shut and the plug pulled out of the base of the telephone. You’ve blown up your TV and committed yourself to a thousand words a day, come hell or high water.
Allowing yourself to feel bored is an important part of the creative process. It’s when ideas seem to fly out of nowhere and smack you in the face. A writer’s job is to be open to this kind of surprise.
The same is true for the rest of us. We’re all writers, in our own way. We have to write the story of our own life. And sometimes that means doing nothing is the best way to start accomplishing something.