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Boredom and Creativity

Updated: Oct 24, 2021

Boredom can adequately be represented as a vacuum, and time in a vacuum becomes both noticeable and transformative. Ideas that would come and go while we do other things, have a chance to materialize. In this sense, time almost has a spiritual dimension: it is required to create something out of thin air. It acts as an emulsion.

Boredom has nothing to do with routine. This is counter-intuitive since we often deem routine to be boring. But routine is a natural and efficient way for us to feel comfortable. When we operate on a routine, time flies: we believe the end of the work week goes faster than the beginning because we get used to the work rhythm. On the contrary, Mondays feel longer because we transition from a state of leisure back to an imposed schedule. Similarly, we perceive the second week of vacation to go by quicker because we establish routines during the first week of vacation. Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in a study published in 2003[i], found that time is remembered as shorter when it is experienced as a routine but is expected to be experienced as longer when the routine is anticipated. In other words, we expect routine to be boring, but it is quite the opposite.

Boredom, unlike routine, manifests itself by perceived time dilation and a lack of direction while feeling aroused[ii]. We experience a frustration: we want to be stimulated but are left without a way to actively engage with our environment.

But we have to trust time is going to bring us a resolution. We must be willing to run the risk of wasting our time, of waiting for nothing yet be ready to capture what may come our way, and act on it right there and then. There is no shortcut and no guaranty. Sadly, impatience rules. Marketers struggle to grab and keep consumers' ever shortening attention span. We segment our attention between TV and our cell phone, our computer screen and our cell phone, life and our cell phone. Sendhil Mullainathan, author of Scarcity: Why Having too Little Means so Much, observes how lack of bandwidth[iii] is a chronic issue in our society, not only at work but also in our so-called free time: our attention is constantly divided, resulting in more passive and less enjoyable experiences.

This is just a new paradigm: boredom is not characterized by longing and disengagement anymore but by speed and distraction[iv]. The new boredom is us half-watching TV half-surfing the Internet, engaged in neither but eager for more. According to Schneider, who studied the representation of boredom in contemporary comics,

"our culture is not based on contemplation but on a set of extreme psychological feelings such as fascination, terror, even disgust, and nausea."

What puts us at risk is not the lack of attention but the lack of engagement, not the loss of information but the loss of meaning. We've replaced an empty fecund boredom by a buzzing sterile one.

[i] “Routine and the Perception of Time”, Dinah Avni-Babad and Ilana Ritov, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General [ii] “What is Boredom”, September 2012, by Art Markman See also Bonnie R. Chavez, 2003 and Study in 2011by Yamada and Kawabe on [iii] Sendhil Mullainathan’s interview about Scarcity: Why Having too Little Means so Much [iv]What Happens When Nothing Happens: Boredom and Everyday Life in Contemporary Comics, p.97, Greice Schneider, 2016

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