Zen and The Art of Doing Nothing
A few years back I took a flight from Amsterdam to the US. Two parents with a young daughter sat down next to me. I find it hard to age kids, but I would say she was about three or four years old.
I watched her (the child) pick up the in-flight magazine and stare at it oddly. After a moment she made a pincer movement with her thumb and index finger over the cover picture as if to magnify it.
Looking confused that the magazine didn’t respond, she put it back in the seat pocket.
I was a little taken aback by this at first, and then I realized: she’d probably never seen a physical magazine before. She thought it was an iPad…
Sometimes I suspect that I’ll be the last generation that ever knew what it was like to be truly bored.
Smartphones just became a thing at the very end of my school years, Facebook was somewhere you could do quizzes to see which movie character you were most like, the app store allowed you to download a weather app. The all-encompassing metaverse seemed very science fiction.
The point being, a long car journey as a child meant staring out of the window for hours, listening to some dated music my parents liked, or talking. A rainy day meant playing board games and reading.
Boredom didn’t mean exhausting the dopamine hit of the infinite scroll on social media or finally getting sick of perfectly tailored videos delivered by the YouTube algorithm that knows just the right amount of shock, surprise, variety and your preferences to keep you clicking.
In other words, boredom wasn’t becoming tired of constant stimulation, it was more the absence of stimulation.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t some wistful reminiscing to a simpler, romanticized time. But, I do have to wonder what is lost in a world of constant connectivity, notifications and entertainment.
Philosophers and religious leaders, across all cultures, have long valued stillness, calm, time for contemplation, ‘getting away’ from the hustle and bustle of life, and that was well before 24/7 notification machines were in our pockets.
Calm moments and times of reflection are often where we have our best ideas, where we have the most clarity. Perhaps we need time away from stimulation to connect the dots and process things, and it’s hard to do that when you have an infinite choice of podcasts, perfectly curated Spotify playlists and 104 notifications throughout the day.
None of this is to negate the amazing options and freedom these devices bring us. My point is it’s important to be conscious about how we interact with them.
If you don’t define your relationship with this technology, the impressive teams of engineers at social networks who are specifically trying to addict you to their application will do it for you.
When clients come to you feeling overwhelmed, it may seem trite to suggest some time away from constantly being plugged in, but time for calm and contemplation can be hugely valuable. We’re simpler creatures than we think, and we’re definitely not designed for the 24-hour news cycle and constant updates. Simply - and consciously - taking some deliberate time away from devices can result in a huge boost in overall feelings of wellness for many people.
The best bit - when you take a step back and aren’t connected constantly, you also open yourself up to a lot more serendipity.
I met my other half because she asked me for directions when I was sitting on a wall in the south of France. If she’d been using Google maps she’d likely have got where she wanted more quickly but life would have been quite different.
Sometimes it’s important to take the long route and get lost.