The other day I was at the movies and it was a few minutes before the previews were to begin. The man in front of me, who was maybe 55 or so, was playing a video game on his phone. Everywhere I go, I see adults playing video games, a phenomenon that strikes me as quite odd, and as disturbing. Every moment of unstructured or un-entertained time is now filled up with games. Adults refer to the experience of being stranded without something to do or play as something close to torture. While I am used to hearing this complaint from my children, there now appears to be an epidemic of chronic boredom among adults as well.
The word "bored" is listed in Webster's dictionary as an adjective meaning weary and restless through lack of interest. The verb "to bore" means to hollow out a tube or make a hole in. Technology is both encouraging and offering the solution to our belief that open time, or free play as it used to be called in pre-school, means boredom. We relate to our unstructured time as something that desperately needs to be done away with, filled up ASAP! We are terrified that we will end up in a moment without a device, with only ourselves to be with. Heavens no, not ourselves!
There was a time when open space was experienced as a womb awaiting a pregnancy, fertile with possibility. Open time was the mother of creativity and invention, the ground in which to grow something new. What happened to our delight in not knowing what might unfold? Where has our interest and faith in creating something out of nothing gone?
People describe being with just themselves as a condition that is at best boring, and at worst one of non-existence. With technology leading the way, our own presence is now experienced as an absence!
What effect is this dread of open time going to have on us as a society? What will happen to our creativity, identity and overall well-being? I wonder, what are we breeding into and out of the human species through our unwillingness to welcome the possibility that unscheduled time offers?
In truth, it is in the open spaces that we give life to the unformulated intuitions that linger within us. "Nothing to do" is the most nutrient-rich food for imagination. It is because of what happens in the unfilled spaces that we evolve. We all, both children and adults, need to be able to tolerate nothing to do. A hollow in a tube is a place where a nest can be built. With modern day adults as their models, our children will lose the instinct to create and imagine. They will simply become robots, accomplishing tasks and frantically filling the spaces between them, thereby relinquishing the best of what makes us human.
Furthermore, it is in the open spaces that we meet who we are, hear our own thoughts and notice our own feelings. Residing in the not-yet-formed is how we learn to be -- to feel that we exist. Deprived of this ever-important free time, we can only feel our own presence in relation to another activity, object, or other. With just ourselves, there is no self to be with. This condition is a recipe for emptiness and despair.
Can we rescue our relationship with unfilled time, wrestle our respect for its importance back from the Angry Birds? We can, but it is a choice that we must make now, consciously. In doing so, we must be willing to tolerate the boredom and agitation that will undoubtedly appear when we stop gaming our way through life. I hope that we, as individuals, adults and models for our children, will decide to stop wasting the most fertile ground that we possess, stop collapsing into the habits of avoidance that technology is so seductively tempting us with. While it may be just be a game of solitaire today, ultimately it is our well-being and very evolution that is at stake.
Nothing is just that: no thing... yet. And indeed, no thing is worth paying attention to. We can choose to do that starting now.