The social apps on our phones have been extremely well-engineered to capture our attention. Like Pavlov’s dogs that were conditioned to salivate at the sound of the bell, we have this Pavlovian connection to our phones. At the slightest hint of boredom, we whisk our smartphones to get a dose of stimulus. Chris Bailey calls this “novelty hunting”, in this context, a way to seek to stimulate our minds digitally.
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The hunt for a novel stimulus being effortlessly fulfilled by social media further perpetuates the process, making us ever dependent on them for every whimsical need for an emotional stimulus. This ironically decreases the excitement of the stimulus leading to new boredom. What follows is an increase in one’s “boredom proneness” a trait that reflects how easily a person might feel bored.
Now, this could be a problem.
Research has shown that individuals with higher boredom proneness (BP) are more likely to experience negative emotions like anxiety or loneliness and a lower level of subjective well-being (quality of life). Also put simply, frequently using social media is an addictive behaviour. An addictive behaviour that was, in part, created by an intolerance to boredom.
The urge to quickly catch up with a YouTube video or the need to scroll Instagram reels during work could fragment attention. Studies have shown to link excessive use of the internet (social media) with attention deficits. Tolerating boredom is a mandate for achieving high levels of concentration necessary for intense work. In this article in The NewYork Times, Cal Newport writes
the ability to concentrate without distraction on hard tasks is becoming increasingly valuable in an increasingly complicated economy…it becomes hard to give difficult tasks the unbroken concentration they require, and your brain simply won’t tolerate such a long period without a fix. Indeed, part of my own rejection of social media comes from this fear that these services will diminish my ability to concentrate.
A little dose of boredom is healthy. Boredom forces you to get creative and solve problems. Boredom gives you the solitude to introspect, to self reflect. It helps you diffuse. Boredom is good.