Do you ever use that phrase bored to distraction? Do you ever think about what it means? As in – distracted by what? The answer is, of course, by yourself. At a certain point of intolerable boredom, your mind kicks in. You begin to daydream. Mull over problems that have been worrying you, searching for a solution. You listen in on other people’s phone conversations, and imagine what the person at the other end of the line might be saying. In its quest to free you from boredom, your brain will make creative leaps to keep you entertained. Or at least it would, if you didn’t have Candy Crush/ Facebook/ Snapchat to keep you constantly entertained. Last week I stumbled across the “Bored and Brilliant” project organized by the New Tech City podcast. The premise of the challenge is all about rethinking our relationship to our smartphone in order to give our minds that precious time to wander, space out, drift.
I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that I found this project at a time that I felt I really needed it. I had an unhealthy compulsion to play the game Threes (which I’m semi-convinced was designed by Beezelbub himself) to say nothing about my frequent facebook/twitter/instagram/tumblr refreshes. One of the things that really struck me in listening to the podcast is a study that found that when we go to check for notificiations on our phone, we literally hold our breath, simulating anxiety/stress in our bodies. My phone, for all its amazing abilities to connect me to the world, was stressing me out, turning me into someone I didn’t really want to be.
I’ve also recently lost one of my last genuinely internet free places: Toronto’s subways have just got wifi. It seems there are fewer and fewer refuges from constant connection, all the signal blackspots being brought onto the grid one-by-one. I’m sure wifi on the subway feels like progress to some: I just imagine more and more people having to check their work emails during their commutes and I wonder is this really how we want to live our lives?
And so, I dove into the challenge. It started with keeping your phone in your bag when you are out and about, instead of having it constantly glued to your palm. Then you spent a whole day tasked with not taking a single smartphone photograph, but seeing the world through your own eyes. I deleted every single game from my phone: free at last from Candy Crush tyranny! I turned off the notifications for my social media apps. I began to sit up and notice the world around me again as I moved through it. I read my book.
Inspired by the project, I also decided to download the apps Freedom and f.lux for my laptop. Freedom is an app which allows you to switch off your internet access for a set period of time – which is really handy if you just want to get some work done without being distracted by cat videos, or whatever, and like me your self-control is limited. F.lux is software which warms your computer screen at night, to limit the amount of blue light you look at as you get closer to bed (blue light tricks our bodies into thinking that it’s the middle of the day, which can damage our sleep quality). It turns out there’s all kinds of creative solutions out there to help us regain some control in our relationship to our technology.
Sure enough, as I was wandering to class one day – completely unplugged from all devices – I started reformulating an overhaul of my novel. I began playing around with sentences. I felt excited again about a project that has been languishing for a little while. Is this creative surge solely attributable to me taking up the challenge? Probably not – creativity is kind of cyclical for me in general. But what I have noticed this past couple of weeks is how much clearer my thinking feels, how much happier I feel when I’m not sucked into the screen of my phone and away from the things I actually enjoy and feel good about doing. So who knows – if you feeling in a bit of a creative doldrums – maybe this is worth a try? A one week challenge to reconnect with the world around you… what have you got to lose?