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Essays and Thoughts

The Power of Boredom

Brian Rahill

March 23, 2018

When’s the last time you remember being truly bored?

That’s the question Manoush Zomorodi posed to us at the LearnLaunch Conference in Boston last month. Zomorodi, author of Bored and Brilliant, went on to explain that we get our most creative ideas when our mind goes on autopilot—when we’re taking a shower, for example, or driving our car on the way to work. When our brains are allowed to go into default mode, our subconscious makes itself known and makes new connections. In short, boredom unlocks our minds’ creative potential.

“A decade ago, we shifted our attention at work every three minutes. Now, we do it every forty-five seconds, and we do it all day long.” ~ Zomorodi

Human brains are not actually capable of multitasking. What we refer to as multitasking actually involves a complex neurological process through which our brains disengage from one task and engage in a secondary task. This process saps our brain’s natural resources, so in addition to depriving ourselves of the boredom necessary to make creative connections, we’re also depriving our brains of the necessary nutrients for basic functionality. And yet, according to Zomorodi, “the average person checks email 74 times a day and switches tasks on their computer 566 times a day.” Not only are we switching our attention at work more often than we used to, but it has become expected of us. Supervisors expect employees to “multitask” and technological literacy has become a necessary job requirement.

Here at CourseStorm, we are a technology-heavy company, and we couldn’t do our jobs without the use of our computers and cell phones. At the same time, we are also aware of the limitations of technologies. That’s why whenever we brainstorm or plan new features, we start away from our desks. We’ve found over the years that we are far more creative, and thus more productive, if we collaborate without screens getting in the way. When we brainstorm, we write things out on pen and paper initially. Only after we’ve gotten our creative juices flowing do we go back to our computers for implementation.

As educators, you’re in a unique position to advocate for balance. We know many of our customers offer classes in technology literacy, where students gain the basic understanding of how to work in a technology-driven world. And that got us thinking: wouldn’t these classes also make an interesting space to learn about balancing those technologies with the need for time away from computers and phones in favor of face-to-face interactions and creative thinking?

We believe that technology has great things to offer, and technological literacy is a vital life skill. But Zomorodi highlights that part of technological literacy should include education on when it’s appropriate–and even necessary–to step away from technology. This week, we offer that as a challenge to you, our educators. How can you change your program’s culture to encourage responsible technology use–and, perhaps more importantly, responsible technology breaks?

Manoush Zomorodi
Bored and Brilliant

Brian Rahill

Brian is a scientist-turned-education technology executive. He has founded and led technology companies for more than 20 years and uses his analytical mind and experimental approach to spur growth in small and medium businesses and start-ups. He is passionate about using technology to enhance access to lifelong learning.

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