Microboredom — Blessing or Curse?

Posted 06.04.2008


A few months ago, a colleague sent along an article from the Boston Globe entitled, “The Joy of Boredom. In addition to citing a book I like (CrazyBusy by Ed Hallowell), the article makes the point that we have become so connected and wired on a 24/7 basis that we won’t allow ourselves to be bored for even a moment. According to WordSpy, a few years ago researchers at cell phone manufacturer, Motorola, came up with the word, microboredom, to describe what we’re twittering, gaming and texting to avoid.

In the Globe article, the reporter, Carolyn Johnson, offers this example of the art and innovation that can come from being bored:

In one of the most famous scenes in literature, for instance, boredom takes time. Marcel Proust describes his protagonist, Marcel, dunking a madeleine cookie into his teacup.

"Dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake," Proust wrote. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory . . . I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal.

Marcel’s senses are recalibrated, his experiences deepened, and the very nature of memory begins to reveal itself. But it is only through the strenuous process of clearing his mind and concentrating that his thoughts begin to unfurl completely, immersing him in memory. Had Marcel been holding a silver clamshell phone in his hand instead of the delicately scalloped cookie, perhaps he could have quieted the boredom with a quick game of cellphone Tetris. And had Proust come of age with an iPhone in his hand and the expectation that his entire world fit in his pocket, he may never have written his grandiose novel.

Is it possible that you’re missing out on coming up with the next big idea or a great novel because you’re in the habit of distracting yourself from microboredom?