I’m disgruntled with social media. No. I’m more than disgruntled. I’m resentful. For the record, I do occasionally get something out of it, but more frequently it’s a necessary evil. A time-suck, a mashup, a gooey glob of overshared, overdone, over-the-top posts and pictures with the intent to…what? Look at me, I’m grand? Look at all these cool places I get to go to, aren’t they grand? Look at the food I eat, the people I know, the clothes I wear, the poses I strike, the classes I teach, my new podcast, my new book, my new product, the life lessons I have to share because I know and feel your pain and struggle, my rants, the quotes I regurgitate from the wise past and present, my kids, my dog(s), my cat(s), my bird(s), my porch, my couch, my hair, my eyelashes.
Careful, artful compositions or unplugged bare-all, tell-all avalanches. Our present to the world, which, of course, is waiting at the edge of its seat.
Eighty percent of us — about 247 million people — in the US do it; me included. The “it” being the tableaus and compositions that hide — or distract from — real life. Others before me have lamented about this phenomenon, so it’s nothing new. I’m also aware of the paradox I’m committing here of posting on social media while at the same time giving it a beating.
Why we perpetuate the good, bad, ugly, or the mundane, impossible and atrocious — either as the one who delivers content or the one who consumes it — is already the stuff of psychology: We seek inspiration, distraction or validation, we have big egos (oh, yes, lots of these), it’s become a habit, we crave acceptance, we fear invisibility.
That’s the one that interests me. In his book Deep Work, Georgetown University computer science professor and author Cal Newport provokes the question: What would happen if we just stopped? What would happen if we quit social media and embraced boredom? Which ones scares you more?
I think boredom is fear wrapped up in compulsion. Compulsion to act, move, change, avoid. This is easy — too easy. Everything we need to do this is at our fingertips and within eyesight. Imagine that it wasn’t. An hour, a day, a week, a month, a year or forever. What if, instead of posting or scrolling through our feeds, timelines and emails, we stopped and just sat there.
Where might the boredom of doing nothing take us?
Boredom avoidance isn’t new. What’s new, or sort of new, is what science is revealing about the power of boredom. From why some people are more prone than others to boredom (hint and no surprise: dopamine) to how boredom can incite a creative response. This post is the outcome of my boredom, for example.
My feeling is this: Doing nothing and giving ourselves space — physical space, mental and emotional space, spiritual space — is not unmotivated or idle indulgence. It’s necessary for our very existence.
I’ll say it again, but in a different way: Boredom is part of life.
Now, shut down your phone, tablet or laptop. Let boredom take over.