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The Art of Boredom

Art by Sasha Martinez

There was a National Geographic photographer, Matthieu Paley, who traveled across India by train for five days, spanning 5,000 kilometers. One day, as he sat in his train cart escaping the heat, he noticed that a stream of peddlers would keep popping into his compartment selling all sorts of goods. “Chai, mangoes, a puff of air freshener, chain locks, books, chewing tobacco, power banks,” Paley enumerates in his Instagram account. He decided he would photograph them. Propping his camera up, he waited until, one by one, vendors would come in. Every time someone would draw the curtain to his cart, he would take their portraits, standing in the same spot, selling something different. “I waited in impatience for the curtain to open and the theater of life to unravel. That would usually start around 4:30 a.m.,” he says. In the end, he concludes, “Good things can happen during ‘down time.’ I think flirting with boredom is good for the creative part of the brain; it seems we are losing the art of boredom.”

Paley riveted me, not only with his photographs (which are stunning by the way), but how he ends his series: presenting this idea that we don’t make art anymore out of boredom. It stuck with me, really. It’s so hard to even get bored nowadays. Waiting in a crowded room in a government office for hours becomes less excruciating when you have a phone to look at and fiddle with. Some people stuck in traffic pass time by tweeting about how bad traffic is. We rarely spend time doing absolutely nothing, and maybe we’ve also lost the ability to be inspired with nothing else but our own thoughts.

Time and time again, friends tell me they can’t believe how ridiculous their own social media habits are. “It’s the first thing I do when I wake up and the last thing I do before bed,” they say of their habit of mindlessly scrolling through their feeds. “The Instastories of people are like my TV,” another friend says. And while we’ve accepted that this is reality, the idea that it can hamper the creative thought process does seem intriguing. When was the last time you had a brilliant idea that wasn’t based on a “peg” you screenshot from somebody else? Or had an opinion you didn’t rip off from a Facebook status? Or honed a business idea that wasn’t based on another existing online business? Do we need to spend more time… doing nothing?

It was someone from the Generation Z who first told me about “social media fatigue,” the idea that when things online become too curated, this can actually become an eyesore. Initially, I couldn’t get with this idea. I loved curated feeds! I loved looking at them and I loved the aesthetic… I was all for it. And then recently, something happened: the repeated look of the same impeccably well-lit travel photos, in the same color hue and the same tint and the same perfect exposure and contrast and the same composition… it got predictable. Like, I knew what the next post was going to like, and the one after that, and the one after… because they all looked the same!

Suddenly, I realized this Gen Z kid was right. And the more I immersed myself online, the more I felt this sense of… social media fatigue.

YouTube’s co-founder and former CEO Chad Hurley told a bunch of budding entrepreneurs at a Nordic Business Forum in Stockholm, “I think if you spend too much time browsing the web, or checking your Twitter feed or Facebook, I do think that these feeds are detrimental to people’s productivity. It alters your thinking. Any time you have an idea, you feel it’s already been done, or you get discouraged by what other people are creating, because you keep seeing it come through your feed.”

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He continues, “Too many people are jumping onto bandwagons and different trends, trying to find the same solutions to problems. There are so many opportunities, you don’t need to jump on those bandwagons.”

It does get kind of dated after a while, doesn’t it? When the content tends to follow the basic trends, we aren’t really presented with anything new. Paley was right: flirting with boredom is a good idea. Downtime may actually be good for the artist, and encourage one to think out of the box. Get offline not for the sake of one’s sanity, but in hopes it will inspire some new, original thought.

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