Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

The last day I was bored was August 17, 2007. I remember the exact date because it was the day before my wife gave me an iPhone for my birthday. My iPhone took away every excuse I had to be bored. If I was standing in line at the post office I could now use my ESV app to read the Bible. If I was stuck in my car on a long drive I could use the iPod app to listen to the latest Mars Hill Audio journal. I now have a unimaginably powerful tool to that killed every excuse I had to be bored. And I love it.

But Dilbert -creator Scott Adams argues that lack of boredom is hurting our creativity :

Lately I’ve started worrying that I’m not getting enough boredom in my life. If I’m watching TV, I can fast-forward through commercials. If I’m standing in line at the store, I can check email or play “Angry Birds.” When I run on the treadmill, I listen to my iPod while reading the closed captions on the TV. I’ve eliminated boredom from my life.

Now let’s suppose that the people who are leaders and innovators around the world are experiencing a similar lack of boredom. I think it’s fair to say they are. What change would you expect to see in a world that has declining levels of boredom and therefore declining creativity? Allow me to describe that world. See if you recognize it.

For starters, you might see people acting more dogmatic than usual. If you don’t have the option of thinking creatively, the easiest path is to adopt the default position of your political party, religion or culture. Yup, we see that.

You might see more movies that seem derivative or are sequels. Check.

You might see more reality shows and fewer scripted shows. Right.

You might see the best-seller lists dominated by fiction “factories” in which ghostwriters churn out familiar-feeling work under the brands of famous authors. Got it.

I don’t buy it.

While I might agree that being constantly over-stimulated can be a problem, I’ve always found the supposed benefits of boredom to be overrated. Take a look at Adams’ list. Were people really less dogmatic before the advent of smartphones? Did movies suddenly become more derivative after the invention of the Internet. Were TV shows and best-selling fiction really better before the Kindle? Of course not.

If Adams really believes that tedium leads to creativity, then shouldn’t he champion measures that increase the level of tedium in our lives? Does he think art schools should include classes in which students are forced to be bored? Should spending 100 hours waiting in line at the DMV be a requirement for getting an MFA in creative writing?

Anyone willing to make the case that boredom—being truly bored—is a necessary component for creativity? As I said, I don’t believe it—but I’m open to hearing arguments in favor of tedium.

Dear Reader,

Your charitable support for First Things is urgently needed before July 1.

First Things is a proudly reader-supported enterprise. The gifts of readers like you— often of $50, $100, or $250—make articles like the one you just read possible.

This Spring Campaign—one of our two annual reader giving drives—comes at a pivotal season for America and the church. With your support, many more people will turn to First Things for thoughtful religious perspectives on pressing issues of politics, culture, and public life.

All thanks to you. Will you answer the call?

Make My Gift

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.

Tags

Loading...

Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles