As a society, are we active, mobile and healthy enough? As a teacher at an inner London school I am worried that our children are becoming detached from the natural world and are unhealthier for it, both mentally and physically. Growing up in the hubbub of the city is busy, distracting and allows little free time to relax and let the mind wander. What's more, in this era of constant distractions, do young, and old people alike, have time to be bored? My feeling is that boredom shouldn't be defined by the time when your not sure what do with it, but more-so a time where the mind is free to think, create and learn about oneself. In retrospect, the lives of urban children contrasts so much with my upbringing in rural Hampshire. Does the modern world offer our young people the time and space to find themselves?
As I age it's clear that I was privledged to have grown up with huge woods, open fields and the seaside under twenty minutes walk from my home. As the modern world progresses it seems our young people are trapped either by growing urban sprawl that diminishes their green spaces or from the trapping of time that technology takes from their lives. This relentless journey to take everything online is preventing some of our children from valuing the simple things in life and fostering the key, and fun, skills of being a child; developing a curious mind, building an appetite for adventure and having the time to learn about themselves.
Outside Magic Lies
I started to think about boredom after reading an article citing a book written in the 90s called 'Outside Magic Lies' by John Stilgoe. The article engages us to consider the activities we undertake should be taken purely for the pleasure of doing the activity. Something struck me when reading the article, when this book was written children would have spent much more time outside, playing games or sport and creating their own fun. At no time in a child's life is this truer than in the summer holidays. I remember myself the boredom of "having nothing to do", which in hindsight wasn't true, because going through that process of being bored pushed me to spend time drawing, painting and reading encyclopaedias. It wasn't that I was bored, I just hadn't developed coping mechanisms to discover and sustain the activities I loved doing. Arguably, in these summers of 'boredom' I developed passions that I still have now, which have shaped my studies, job and outlook on life.
Woods Or The Mall?
Back to the 90s, John Stilgoe was already researching the healing qualities of time spent in nature and was arguing that both the older and younger generations should be seeking 'magic' from outside. The aim, to cultivate a mindset that seeks pleasures from the small moments in life because if the small moments give you satisfaction then you'll always be happy, boredom included. Would this generations average British 15 year old head for a walk in the park with friends? Or are they more likely to head to a shopping centre? Obviously, the answer will be dictated by where they live but also on their relationship with technology. Because shopping and consumption fuels so much of social media, young people will inherently see shopping as a 'normal' go to activity. Social media will promote their peers spending their weekends and money in shops, especially in the cities, herd mentality takes over.
Ubiquitous tech may be stopping our children from ever being bored and this is making it harder for them to define their true interests. In all the distractions and expectations that have been reared from social media, our young people are starting to live their lives through continual interaction with their phones. The downside, going forward, is that children with have an ever-worsening relationship with boredom, quiet time or alone time (which ever you wish to call it) and all the positive mental qualities that come from the minds ability to wonder off-topic, create and divert.
Young people have grown up with technology, sharing, likes and social media. The later is the currency that they trade with their peers but there is a downside, students often struggle to see anything beyond what is in front of them. Do they have time to sit, think and let their minds wander? Children of the urban centre live in a thriving place but also a distracting one, advertising-filled and traffic laden. It takes a strong will to block those things out. More than anything, the urban environment can't offer young people the chance to go out to the woods without parents and connect with nature, take risks and learn from exploration. In Finland children have lessons of play time and nature time to developed tactile learning. Our city children live in a risk adverse place where parents are worried about letting their children out. This culture of safety and rules can prevent young people thinking outside the box, this video by the RSA, educational paradigms, does a good job of looking into the reasons why.
We are living in a paradigm shift in the choices that are offered to us. Food, drinks, clothes and stuff, we can have it quickly, cheaply, ordered 24 hours a day. But all these choices are condemning us to a mindset of total engagement through the interconnectivity of technology. I'm sure we have all felt it in those moments alone where grabbing your phone fills any void. Therein lies the problem. We aren't able to be bored, there's just too much happening all the time to keep us entertained, or distracted. Intravenous technology also has the power to make us feel like we are always missing out on something, neatly defined in messaging tag FOMO (fear of missing out). We need to get our children outside, to play, and to allow them a detox from the intoxicating virtual world of their smartphone.
We need our young people, and surely many elders, to live in the present, connected with what is in front of them. Excerise the hands, legs and arms, create, fail and create again. Get out for a stroll and notice things, connect the dots and the consider little details. Be silly, play hide and seek, pull funny faces, speak in funny voices; it's never too late to make little changes. Surely of all the changes, unplugging from the phone would reward the most. Let the mind wander and see where it takes you....
What do you think?
Is technology leading us to continual occupation of our time?
Is there a need for boredom?
What can we learn from boredom and a relaxed headspace?
(So you can find it again..)