I am sure that I am not alone in waking up some mornings feeling as though I have to rush through the day frantically multitasking, unable to focus for long on individual jobs, conscious that time is passing and there is still more to do. I am perfectly aware that this is not the most effective way to proceed, but it can be hard to snap out of it in a relentlessly stimulating and immediate world.
We are in thrall to technology, addicted to screens, seemingly incapable of surviving for any length of time without checking email, texts, Facebook. Everyone is at it – on the train, walking, during what appears to be a romantic dinner date, in the middle of conversations. When did we begin to feel that we always have to be in touch, that we always have to be doing something, that our minds have to be full of chatter and noise? When did we become afraid of sitting in silence doing nothing?
And it is not just adults who suffer from this; children too move from one programmed, well-intentioned activity to another before reading and bed. Indeed, the amount of free time available to schoolchildren (after going to school, doing homework, sleeping, and eating) has declined from 45 to 25 percent.
And what about doing nothing? What about allowing ourselves to be bored even? Boredom is certainly painful at first and leads, at least with my children, initially to load moaning and groaning, but then eventually to a new game or activity, often something wild and rumbustious but also personal to them.
Consider what writer F. Scott Fitzgerald had to say on the topic: “Boredom is not an end product; it is, comparatively, rather an early stage in life and art. You’ve got to go by or past or through boredom, as through a filter, before the clear product emerges.”
I would argue that we need to create time for boredom in our daily lives if we are not to lose our ability to think and to create. I would argue that children risk losing the ability to tease out solutions to complex issues if they never face a blank sheet of paper in a silent room. I suggest that we all risk running forever in the same rut if we fill our heads with digital chatter. So I recommend striking a blow for boredom and regularly depriving both yourselves and your children of electronic devices and printed matter and seeing what happens.