The Atlantic magazine has a bunch of interesting ideas in this month’s “Ideas of the Year” issue (go figure). Walter Kirn (Author of Up in the Air) writes about how boredom – a condition we detest and run from – has become extinct. Thanks to technology (the iPad, the iPhone, Twitter etc), we are offered up distractions that save us from ever having to be bored again. But perhaps it has robbed us of daydreaming, and in turn, creativity. I’ll bet that when writers, musicians, artists, think back on where and when they came up with their favorite chapter or lyric, it was when they were bored. Or when their phone died or had no signal. They had nothing to do. Nothing to distract them, but the thoughts in their head. Which is why almost every author will tell you that they generate most of their ideas in the shower. Or while driving. Or in the subway (which incidentally, is where I came up with the idea for this blog).
I don’t have an iPhone, an iPad, or any “I’s” that allow me to over-indulge my impulses (an iPod doesn’t count). My Blackberry (texting and bbm), is distracting enough (although I am guilty of an i-chat addiction). I don’t really watch TV, and now I realize why. It’s because it tempts my thoughts away from co-mingling with one another. They’re better off staying where they are: in a mixed up daydreaming stew.
This reminds me of how my teachers (oh I dreaded my report card) complained that I was a “daydreamer.” To their chagrin, my notebooks, rather than containing transcriptions of that day’s lessons, were littered with “doodles.” Intricate graphic illustrations of connecting lines and shapes. I didn’t draw these deliberately. A whole hour would go by before the bell would ring and I’d lift my head up to see pages filled with these designs. Looking back, I think these doodles were my daydreams, mapped out on paper. To decode them would be impossible, but all I know is that I’d be doing myself a disservice stemming their flow. I stopped doodling and daydreaming for over a decade in my twenties, and the creative repercussions of that lost time are evident to me. I wonder, are kids today scolded for daydreaming? For not paying attention? Is commanding your mind to train on one thing, although it has its advantages (learning, sharpening the mind etc), have its disadvantages too? Does it take over the space we have set aside to daydream and to create?
I wonder if one day we will look back on this day and age and discover that we we’ve lost a certain kind of artist. I’m not saying that new and amazing things aren’t being born out of technology. They certainly are. But it’s up to the individual artist now to actively choose that space to write in – free of distractions, free of wi-fi. Whether it means choosing an internet-free café to write in (no matter how tempting the couches and Facebook are in the internet café next door), or choosing to ride the subway all day. Or running up your water bill by taking ten showers instead of two.
That is, until they create waterproof iPads you can take into the shower with you. And then we’ll have to go somewhere else in pursuit of that inspiring condition we call boredom.