Boredom is Good for You: Why Social Media is so Insidious

I’ve been trying to take a social media fast, unsuccessfully, for some time now. I know that I spend long periods of time poking at the same few websites, checking if anyone’s said anything, and I know that after I do so for a while I feel like crap. Tired, grouchy, and like I’ve just wasted hours of my precious lifespan doing absolutely nothing of note.

Trying to quit always involves rules: I’ll look once a day or even once a week. But then you’re standing in line at the bank with your phone and feeling antsy, and you think, literally there is nothing else I could be doing with this particular time slot anyway. What’s the harm?

Then that five minutes causes you to follow five threads, and those spin off into other threads that you’ll continue to think about and respond to later in the day and tomorrow, and before you know it, you’re mad because some friend of a friend of a friend, who might well be twelve years old, thinks that women don’t really get paid less than men, and if we do, it’s because we make “different choices.” Or global warming can’t possibly exist because it snowed four inches today and he just had to turn up his furnace!

Worse, there’s just this general aggression out there that persists even when the topic isn’t important. I happened to make a quick comment on a thread about salad recently — salad — and someone showed up in a foul mood eager to dispute my point. I don’t know what’s worse — the fact that someone felt the need to launch an attack regarding the topic of salad, or the fact that I spent ten minutes in the shower thinking of the perfect rebuttal to it. This was interrupted only by a periodic thought from the sane side of my brain that said: “It’s just salad, Shae. Let it go. If that person wants to be aggressive, that’s not your issue. And: “Really, there are two possibilities here. Either you’re right, or they’re right, and how important is it to sniff out and correct every inaccuracy in the world about salad? Or maybe, most likely, you both have a point, and are feeling grouchy, and need to stay off the Internet.”

But none of that is even what’s wrong with social media. What’s wrong is that it prevents you from ever experiencing boredom. Feeling ever-so-slightly bored? Just click back to the other page, ah yes, there’s a little notification there. Someone has liked a picture of your cat. Crisis averted. And now you’ve spent enough time looking at this page that the other page has refreshed, so you can go back there again for a minute. Ad infinitum. If you clean house all day, you eventually get sick of cleaning and moving around and you think, whew! Enough of that. Now I should sit down and do some reading. Or if you stay indoors reading for two weeks, going out with friends starts to sound good. But if you start looking at the Internet, you can look indefinitely, and you can banish from your mind any impulse to think about something else, however fleetingly.

Boredom, it occurred to me today, is what reminds you to live.

I want to write a book. I want to go to Europe again. I want to paint a Chinoiserie on my bathroom wall. I got these ideas when I became bored with the way things already were. And I’ll need to get bored some more in order to keep them on my radar, and even boreder to muster up the wherewithal to do all the mundane errands that lead to their realization.

When I fight the impulse to look at my phone while standing in line, I think things like, “It’s been a while since I’ve been to the conservatory! I should take a sketchpad there and hang out and draw.”

Is my life different than it would be if I were a brain in a jar? It should be, I think. I need to work on making sure it is.