Is constant digital stimulation making us bored?
Iamazes me when people proclaim that they are bored. Actually, it amazes me that I am ever bored, or that any of us are. With so much to occupy us these days, boredom should be a relic of a bygone age – an age devoid of the internet, social media, multi-channel TV, 24-hour shopping, multiplex cinemas, game consoles, texting and whatever other myriad possibilities are available these days to entertain us.
Yet despite the plethora of high-intensity entertainment constantly at our disposal, we are still bored. Up to half of us are “often bored” at home or at school, while more than two- thirds of us are chronically bored at work. We are bored by paperwork, by the commute and by dull meetings. TV is boring, as is Facebook and other social media. We spend our weekends at dull parties, watching tedious films or listening to our spouses drone on about their day. Our kids are bored – bored of school, of homework and even of school holidays.
There are a number of explanations for our ennui. This, in fact, is part of the problem – we are overstimulated. The more entertained we are the more entertainment we need in order to feel satisfied . The more we fill our world with fast-moving, high-intensity, ever-changing stimulation, the more we get used to that and the less tolerant we become of lower levels.
Thus slower-paced activities, such as reading reports, sitting in meetings, attending lectures or studying for exams, bore us because we are accustomed to faster-paced amusements.
Our attention spans are now thought to be less than that of a goldfish (eight seconds). We are hard-wired to seek novelty, which produces a hit of dopamine, that feel-good chemical, in our brains. As soon as a new stimulus is noticed, however, it is no longer new, and after a while it bores us. To get that same pleasurable dopamine hit we seek fresh sources of distraction.