How a 2017 TED Talk About Boredom Takes on New Meaning in Our Current Moment

Kaitlyn ’21 reflects on the relationship between boredom and creativity after viewing Manoush Zomrodi’s talk.

(You might want to watch Manoush Zomrodi’s TED Talk on “How boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas” before reading this article.)

Boredom is a dreaded feeling and technology has been found to fix it. As a society, we use technology in every aspect of our lives. We sleep with it near (sometimes using apps to track our schedule or help us fall asleep), eat with it (recipes and ordering), use it for work, school, studying, and even as a substitute for social connection. Technology has advanced so much that it is difficult to picture a life without it. That is, until we have a different perspective. Manoush Zomorodi, a journalist, podcast host, and author, discussed how boredom leads to brilliant ideas during a 2017 Ted Talk. 

Zomorodi was a front-line journalist, traveling to war zones to cover stories and making the best of her career. When her son was born, (and 3 weeks later the iPhone), she found herself with a lot of spare time spent thinking while taking her child on walks. When she got an iPhone, she decided to make podcasts; however, she could not think of anything to talk about. She was not bored like she was on her walks, she was stuck. In her Ted Talk, she discussed how technology has essentially removed the feeling of boredom. With credibility from neuroscientists and behavioral scholars, she explained that when the brain is bored, we have the opportunity to shut off and daydream. This is where all of our creativity stems from. But when we have access to technology, we fill the breaks in our day checking emails, looking at Snapchat, or mindlessly scrolling through TikTok. 

With credibility from neuroscientists and behavioral scholars, she explained that when the brain is bored, we have the opportunity to shut off and daydream. This is where all of our creativity stems from.”

As a result of her discoveries, Zomorodi developed a program that gives people daily challenges, including turning off their phones for a day, lowering their screen time, and deleting the apps that beckoned them to their phones. While talking about her program, she explained why certain apps are addictive and how it is actually people’s jobs to get the user’s attention in any way possible. 

For the first ⅔ of her talk, I was hooked. I told myself I should try getting off my phone and brainstorming alternate activities. Besides, what else did I have to do? She shared examples of people who participated in the program, specifically highlighting screen time averages and pickups. She talked about how the average screen time was about 2 hours. I laughed, knowing mine was so much higher than that. And I knew if I compared it to my friends, 2 hours was definitely a low number. Initially, I considered how the study could be wrong, thinking these were probably people who never went on their phones anyway. Then, I realized that screen time much higher than 2 hours is not normal. 

A day is 24 hours long, including the time you were asleep (which is basically 1/3 of the day, or at least it should be for teenagers), and more than 1/12 of it was spent on one screen. It was insane to me how awful my attraction to my phone was and I desperately needed to get off of it. It could no longer be considered a tool, but rather a necessity that I was pretty much dependent on. 

In the last third of Zomorodi’s talk, she said that technology cut off the pathways to creativity, which, arguably, is true. But she also claimed that it was important, especially for the younger generation, to get off their phones, because they were going to have to solve various societal ills and political problems, like climate change (Before we even graduate high school, this is what is expected of us?), and we can not do that if we are on our phones. But then I realized that technology is the way we are able to connect with each other to solve these problems. We have an advantage no other generation has had before: the world at our fingertips and an idea of how to use it. 

We have an advantage no other generation has had before: the world at our fingertips and an idea of how to use it. ”

Listening to Zomorodi was enlightening, because I knew I needed to get off my phone, or at least reassess my relationship to it, despite how nearly impossible that is. How am I supposed to talk to my friends? Keep up with everyone’s lives? Watch videos to keep me entertained? I don’t even know if those are priorities in my life that require my phone. The more I go on it, the more I discover that people my age do not want to be attached to their phones; we are pretty much sick of it and have exhausted a majority of its entertainment. Zomorodi discussed how because of technology, we might not even know what boredom is. Maybe we just know what it is like to feel stuck, and that is why our screen time levels are so high, because we do not know how to deal with that. It is more difficult for us because we did not grow up in a world where technology was not available; it is like a part of us. That is why it is annoying for all of our issues to be blamed on technology by older generations. They gave it to us and taught us how to use it well so that it might as well be required for each of us.  

Even though I agree that technology can block so many pathways, it is important to acknowledge everything it has provided us with. My ability to, as a 16-year-old quarantined in my home, listen to a professional journalist tell me through a phone to disconnect from technology is even more difficult when it seems like the universe is doing everything to prevent that. Of course, life with no phone and just the world sounds like a great time, but when that is nearly impossible (like when we are stuck by ourselves in our homes for weeks without our friends), we have to consider the doors technology has opened for us. Life without our phones would give our brains a rest so, like Manoush Zomorodi says, I think it would be great to not feel like I have to pick up my phone well I am walking from one room to the next, but in our current moment, it might  work to completely unravel the structure of our lives. 

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