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If 2014 was the year of mindfulness, 2015 is going to be the year of embracing boredom, according to a buzzy new podcast about rethinking your relationship with your phone. Think about it: When was the last time you were really, honestly bored.
That’s exactly what Manoush Zomorodi, the host of WNYC’s New Tech City podcast, asked listeners in her new “Bored and Brilliant: Reclaiming the Lost Art of Spacing Out” challenge.
After listening to the first episode, I thought good and hard about this. I racked my brain for the last time this had truly happened to me, but came up with nothing. Why? Because whenever I feel even a hint of impending boredom threatening at the edges of my mind, I scroll through Instagram. Or check Twitter. Or text a friend. Whenever I’m presented with an opportunity to space out, I swipe to unlock and enjoy an instant entertainment hit.
Zomorodi’s new podcast looks at how phones have invaded every single empty corner of our life, and what this means for our own creativity. Over a series of podcasts, listeners are given a week of challenges to take in order to reclaim back their boredom, with one new challenge assigned per day.
The first challenge is to simply put your phone in your bag when you’re walking. It sounds easy, but I found it surprisingly–and embarrassingly–tricky to walk to the subway without checking my phone. On the way home from the gym, I kept feeling the urge to reach into my bag and fish out my phone. That my friends, is what you call an addiction. Apparently this compulsion also has a name (which does nothing to make me feel better about it, FYI): Phantom phone syndrome.
I got through the first day, and felt pleasantly less frazzled after putting some physical distance between myself and the iPhone
Today is day two, and the challenge is asking the impossible of me: Get through an entire day without taking a single photo. I use my phone camera as often as most people breathe, and have approximately 10 billion photos of smoothies, shoes, my dog, and random city streets, saved to my phone. Apparently I’m not alone in this–Americans take 10 billion photos every month, and nearly 60 percent of those photo takers say they use their phone, not a separate camera.
The rest of the week will include more practical tips–like deleting your favorite app (farewell Instagram) and taking a “fauxcation” by putting on your out-of-office message–to slowly wean listeners off of their smartphone to open them up to get deliciously, delightfully zoned out.
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To get started yourself, download the Moment app on iPhone of the Breakfree app on android. Both are designed to track the number of minutes (or, in my case, hours) you spend on your phone each day, and how often you check it. A survey of the podcast’s listeners revealed the average person spends 90-100 minutes every day on their phone, and will check it between 40 to 50 times. Sounds like a lot, right?
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably wondered about the impact this digital addiction is really having on your life. Are you really missing out on something by never being bored, and never really having time to think?
“Yes,” says cognitive neuroscientist Dr Jonathon Smallwood, a researcher who weighs in on the podcast.
Apparently creativity and daydreaming are interlinked, and if you never get the chance to properly zone out, you’ll suffer. “There’s a close link between originality, novelty, and creativity on the one hand, and the sort of spontaneous thoughts that we generate when our minds are idle,” he explained.
“The smartphone solution probably takes away the boredom but also takes away the chance to see and learn where we truly are in terms of our goals.”
While it’s hard to imagine an iPhone-less life, Dr Sandi Mann, a psychologist and senior lecturer at the University of Lancashire, says switching off is really the only solution.
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“It takes a really stretching of your comfort zone, and people actually get really frightened of being away from the internet, being away from communication. But when you do it, you suddenly discover things about yourself, about your brain, your capabilities, you come up with great ideas, whether that’s great ideas for redecorating the house, or what to have for dinner that night, or for a book, or in my case a piece of research,” she said.
Instead of playing games on your phone, or refreshing your Instagram notifications, we need time to reflect on what’s happening in the real world, something that’s achieved when we’re bored. Studies suggest that we get our most original ideas when we stop the constant stimulation and let ourselves get bored. Think of all the great ideas you could come up with when you’re not relying on “that easy, lazy, junk food diet of the phone to scroll all the time.” (Dr Mann’s words, not mine.)
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Here’s the other worrying thing: No one knows the consequences of smartphones interrupting this important bored state of mind. And by the time we do figure it out, we could easily have spent half of our lives staring at our phone.
Admittedly, every time a new piece of entertainment technology is introduced, we love to fly into a moral panic about how said technology is ruining society. The same thing happened with TV, gaming, and even newspapers. But from my own personal experience–which includes spending more time looking at my phone every day than I spend looking at my boyfriend–I can definitely see the benefit of Zomorodi’s podcast challenge.
If you want to rethink your relationship with your smartphone, and get more creative, listen to the podcast online.