Technology is saving us from deep boredom, and that’s a problem

Social networks and other digital entertainment help fight boredom, but they also prevent us from getting lost in our thoughts.

One of the benefits of modern technology is that it has led to the emergence of a host of entertaining activities; breaking the cycle of boredom has never been easier. At first glance, one can only be satisfied with it; but contrary to what one might instinctively think, it is also a problem.

This is what researchers from the universities of Bath and Trinity argue in their latest work. Like many psychological specialists at the moment, they are working on the cognitive consequences of the pandemic and the phases of containment. What’s special about this study is that they focused on boredom – and not just any boredom.

This generic term actually brings together two different notions originally identified by the philosopher Martin Heidegger in the 1920s: superficial boredom and deep boredom. At first glance, one might think that the second is simply a more intense form of boredom than the first. But the cognitive mechanisms involved have little to do with it.

The Hidden Benefits of Deep Boredom

Superficial boredom is the one you experience fairly regularly in your daily life. It appears, for example, when you’re waiting for your train, or when your mother-in-law conscientiously details the entire family tree of her dachshunds.

The concept of deep boredom, on the other hand, is completely different. According to the definition proposed by the father of the term, it emerges from a ” lots of uninterrupted time spent in relative solitude “. Heidegger believed that deep boredom can accentuate indifference and apathy. A conclusion consistent with many studies on the psychological impact of the pandemic (see our article). But he also saw a fundamental component of creativity and self-building.

Because when left to itself and deprived of an immediate goal, the human mind tends to wander. And it is by getting out of their cognitive routine in this way that people can enrich themselves with new ideas about experiences, find new passions… This is also something we have seen during the confinements; to pass the time, many people have stepped out of their comfort zone by trying new things.

Digital, a bulwark against boredom

The problem is that modern technology has given us tons of weapons to fight boredom. Many individuals have thus developed reflexes to instinctively fill the slightest downtime. Often this involves pulling out a smartphone and instinctively opening your favorite application, almost automatically and without even realizing it.

© Julia Larson / Pexels

This defensive reflex against boredom works very well; social networks, series or video games have allowed many people to avoid apathy, even depression during the pandemic (see our article). But this trick might work also Well. Because by preventing superficial boredom from setting in, we almost completely close the door to deep boredom.

This of course makes it possible to avoid the apathy Heidegger describes. But there is a downside. According to the authors, this reflex is to immediately cure the slightest irritation by rushing to social networks also deprives the brain of the downtime that is so important for imagination and creativity.

Abstract works and not yet decisive

However, it should be noted that this is preliminary work that must be interpreted with caution for two reasons. The first is that they are based on very subjective interviews with almost 15 people — a number largely insufficient to perform conclusive statistical analyses.

The second concern is that they are based on conceptual foundations that are not entirely unanimous. Some researchers (see this research paper) actually believe that the concept described by Heidegger cannot strictly be considered boredom.

But the researchers are well aware of this. They do not present their work as a real revolution. Instead, they would rather clear a new research path. Because before the pandemic, it was a very long time ago that humanity had been confronted with this phenomenon of profound boredom on such a scale.

The pandemic has been a tragic, destructive experience for many people, especially the less fortunate. But we’ve also all heard stories of incarcerated people who have found new hobbies, new careers, or even new goals in life. », recalls Timothy Hill, sociologist at the University of Bath and co-author of this work.

A line of research with potentially profound implications

The researchers therefore estimate that it would be necessary learn from this episode. Because despite the chaos it has created, for some the pandemic has also been an opportunity to reinvent themselves. Hill and his colleagues suggest that it could be interesting to cultivate (reasonably) deep boredom to promote introspection, imagination, discovery and, by extension, the progress of all civilization. And to achieve this, it will probably be necessary to rethink our relationship with technology – starting with social networks.

These works give us a window about how our culture and our ultra-connected devices, which offer an abundance of information and entertainment, make it possible to counteract superficial boredom, but also prevent us from finding more meaningful things says Hill.

© Jonathan Mabey – Unsplash

We believe these results will reflect many people’s experience during the pandemic and how they have used social media to combat boredom. We would like to see this research carried forward “, he concludes.

Given the nature of this work, we should not wait years for solid and statistically proven studies on this topic. It will therefore be advisable to keep this issue in the back of your mind until researchers have more perspective and data on everything that happened during the pandemic.

But in the meantime, there is still a practical conclusion to be drawn. During your next vacation, try to free up some time to be bored on purpose; you may be surprised by the results!

What is Neo-Luddism, this trend that advocates life without a smartphone?

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