By Rebecca Hurshman, Contributing Writer
There’s been a murder.
The common suspects are valuable tools: the internet, social media and smartphones. Attached to our devices, we turned a blind eye to the crime, until it was too late.
The victim? Boredom.
And because of the trance of technology, no one is mourning.
On Asbury University’s campus, it is rare to hear anyone respond to “How are you?” without the word “busy.” Beside academic, spiritual and social pursuits, students cram every last second of their free time with entertainment; research group Flurry reported that smartphone users in 2015 spent an average of three hours a day on their phone. Netflix stated that their average subscriber in 2015 watched an hour and a half of content per day. These statistics are bullets in the gun that shot boredom dead. In an informal poll asking students to recall the last time they were bored, nearly 20 percent of students answered, “I can’t remember.”
One of these students is junior Taryn Cipkowski. “I have so much to do,” she said, “and when I have free time, I do other things that I have to do.” Her full course load and multiple extracurricular activities leave her feeling “useless” when she has a shred of margin. It’s no wonder that poor mental health is a growing concern for college students who, according to Cipkowski, are “trained” to feel empty without full schedules.
Researchers at the Brain and Creativity Institute at University of Southern California claim that we are shortchanging ourselves by filling our free time. When we consistently concentrate on the outside world, our brains lose valuable time in “default mode.” By allowing time for boredom, we create room for “active, internally focused psychosocial mental processing” that only happens when our brains wander into default mode. Without time to focus inward, we hurt our own ability to process our lives and redeem our self-concept.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Ultimately, it is our choice whether or not we close the casket and bury our free time six feet under. All it takes to resuscitate healthy boredom is to schedule for it. Before you plan your committee meetings and coffee dates and campus activities, plan for your mind. Start with five minutes in a silent space: set a timer on your phone, put it across the room and let go of the anxiety that may arise. Then increase that time to seven minutes. Then ten. The practice of stillness and boredom is a muscle that needs conditioning, but in time, the goal is to appreciate this margin to rest and simply exist without needing to be in motion. It’s difficult, but if we want to continue to function properly, we need to practice.
By strategically neglecting specific opportunities, we can allow room for boredom — true, watching-paint-dry boredom — to heal our minds and souls. Boredom is not a disease to be remedied by smartphones and entertainment, but a gift. And you don’t hold a funeral for a gift.
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