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

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

One of the advantages of modern technology is that it has led to the emergence of a variety of fun activities; Breaking the cycle of boredom has never been easier. At first glance, one can only be satisfied with this; but contrary to what one might instinctively think, it’s also a problem.

That’s what researchers from the Universities of Bath and Trinity argue in their latest work. Like many psychology specialists right now, they are working on the cognitive fallout of the pandemic and the phases of confinement. What’s unique about this study is that it focused on boredom—and not just any boredom.

In fact, this umbrella term brings together two distinct terms 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

Surface boredom is the one that you experience fairly regularly in your daily life. It appears, for example, when you are waiting for your train or when your mother-in-law is diligently listing the entire pedigree of her dachshunds.

The concept of deep boredom, on the other hand, is quite different. According to the definition proposed by the father of the concept, it comes from a ” spent much uninterrupted time in relative solitude “. Heidegger believed that deep boredom can increase indifference and apathy. A conclusion consistent with numerous studies on the psychological effects of the pandemic (see our Article). But he also saw a fundamental part of creativity and self-construction.

For when the human mind is left to itself and bereft of an immediate goal, it tends to wander. And by getting out of their cognitive routine in this way, people can enrich themselves with new ideas of experiences, find new passions… We also saw that during confinement; 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 people have therefore developed reflexes to instinctively make up for the slightest downtime. Often this means that you pull out a smartphone and instinctively open your favorite application, almost automatically and without realizing it.

© Julia Larson/Pexels

This defense against boredom works very well; Social networks, series or video games have allowed many people to avoid apathy or even depression during the pandemic (see our Article). But this trick might work too much of Well. Because by preventing superficial boredom from setting in, we almost completely shut the door on deep boredom.

In this way, of course, the apathy described by Heidegger can be avoided. But there is a downside. According to the authors, this reflex immediately heals the slightest anger, rushing to social networks also takes away the downtime so important for imagination and creativity from the brain.

Abstract works and not yet final

However, it should be noted that this is preliminary work that should be interpreted with caution for two reasons. First, they are based on very subjective interviews with almost 15 people — a figure that is largely insufficient for meaningful statistical analysis.

The other concern is that they are based on conceptual bases that are not entirely consistent. Indeed, some researchers (see this research paper) are of the opinion that, strictly speaking, the term Heidegger describes cannot really be described as boredom.

But the researchers are well aware of this. They don’t present their work as a real revolution. Instead, they prefer to explore new avenues of research. Because before the pandemic, humanity had not been confronted with this phenomenon of deep boredom to such an extent for a very long time.

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

A line of research with potentially profound implications

The researchers therefore believe it is necessary learn from this episode. Because despite the chaos it’s caused, the pandemic has also been an opportunity for some to reinvent themselves. Hill and his colleagues suggest it might be interesting cultivate (quite) deep boredom To promote introspection, imagination, discovery, and thereby the progress of the entire civilization. And for that it will probably be necessary to rethink our relationship to technology – starting with social networks.

These works provide us with a window how our culture and our ultra-connected devices, which offer a wealth of information and entertainment, make this possible counteract superficial boredom, but also prevent us from finding more meaningful things says hill.

© Jonathan Mabey – Unsplash

We believe these results reflect many people’s experiences during the pandemic and how they have used social media to combat boredom. We want this research to continue ‘ he concludes.

Given the nature of this work, we should not wait years for solid and statistically documented studies on the subject. So it’s wise to keep this issue in mind until researchers have more perspective and data on everything that’s happened during the pandemic.

But in the meantime, a practical conclusion must be drawn. During your next vacation, try to take some time to purposely bore yourself. You will be surprised by the result!

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

The text of the study is available here.

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