It sneaks up on us while we’re sitting in traffic, or waiting at the doctor’s office, or doing our taxes — boredom, that restless feeling of dissatisfaction that arises when we harbor “the desire for desires,” as Leo Tolstoy said.
At the same time, we’re living in an age of never-ending stimulation, all at our fingertips — texting, social media, 24-hour news, and streaming galore. But despite this constant content consumption, we’re still getting bored — maybe even more so than ever. We find ourselves hopping from tab to tab, scrolling through Instagram while watching a show, tuning out of meetings to check our email. And now some researchers are worried that all this stimulation could be changing our brains.
On this episode, we look at boredom in the age of information overload, and whether or not it’s really good for us and our brains. We hear stories about what happened when two reporters quit their digital addictions for four weeks, a monk who took his search for boredom to the ultimate extreme, and why there’s value to the slow pace of baseball.
We follow reporters Liz Tung and Grant Hill as they suffer through a month-long dopamine fast — four weeks away from their worst digital addictions, under the tutelage of psychiatrist Anna Lembke. We hear about their effort to reclaim their lives and brains — and maybe, just maybe, rediscover boredom.
Psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist James Danckert has boring people down to a science — literally. That’s the focus of the lab he runs at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, where he works to understand the mechanisms and brain states that give rise to boredom. His book is “Out of My Skull: The Psychology of Boredom.”
Boredom isn’t just pointless suffering — for some people, it can be a spiritual experience; a journey into the nature of our minds. Reporter Alan Jinich tells the story of what religious studies professor Justin McDaniel discovered in his 20s, when he embarked on an extreme mission of boredom: seven days of sitting alone in a wooden box in the middle of a Thai jungle. McDaniel teaches the courses “Existential Despair” and “Living Deliberately” at the University of Pennsylvania.
Reporter Marcus Biddle used to find baseball boring — but over the past 10 years, he’s become a convert. In the wake of Major League Baseball’s recent efforts to speed up the game, he examines the sport’s traditionally slow pace.