Quarantine Could Fix Our Broken Brains
Being bored at home is showing us how to reject hustle culture
A few short months ago, I wrote a piece for Forge recommending that we rediscover the value of boredom in an age dominated by screens and the attention economy. “We may be stressed out, distracted, and overworked, plagued by eye strain and brain fog — but we’re not bored,” I wrote. “In 2019, you just don’t have to be.”
How quickly things change: In 2020, with much of the world in quarantine, boredom is everywhere. We’re cooped up, lonely, and restless, and we’re not sure what to do with ourselves.
It’s a bizarre, disorienting turn. On South Broadway Avenue in Denver, a few blocks from my house, people sleep in the doorways of restaurants that were bustling three weeks ago. In India, hundreds of thousands of migrant laborers cut off by the pandemic lockdown face desperate odds as they trek home across hundreds of miles. Thousands around the world are dead already. Hundreds of thousands more will join them before this pandemic runs its course.
Who could be bored with so much suffering just outside? To admit to boredom now, of all times, can feel like something worse than privilege — sacrilege, maybe.
But as counterintuitive as it may be, we need boredom right now. Especially now.
Not just because research suggests that boredom can make us more creative and productive, though that’s certainly true. Its value is far more profound: It’s what makes us human. And as the world falls apart, it may be the path to our salvation.
Boredom and your brain
We don’t need a pandemic to feel guilty about our boredom. Even in normal times, being bored is often framed as a kind of moral failure.
The word itself is deeply associated with the sin of idleness, a quality railed against by Victorian moralists, who sought to promote a citizenry that was industrious and hardworking — and willing to labor tirelessly on behalf of industrialist tycoons. Idleness, as historian Patricia Meyer Spacks noted in her book Boredom: A Literary History of a State of Mind, is itself rooted in the concept of acedia, a Greek term borrowed by Christian philosophers to describe a…