This post is part of a year-end series by MBA students at California College of the Arts’ Design MBA Program. Read more about our annual partnership here.
By Anthony Jagoda
Speaking about Jack Kerouac, Jackson Pollock and Jesus Christ with my communications professor, I wondered afterwards what they had in common. Then I saw it: they were all at some point, simply bored.
Boredom is a crucial part of restlessness; that uncomfortable place where we feel a gravitational pull to rearrange a current context, and from this restlessness gain the insights that inspire a change. It seems we are driving to a boredom-less digital-centric landscape, both in social and solitary contexts and with all of this ubiquitous digital busyness we are losing our opportunity to be constructively bored. Our use of time may not be sustainable for deeper thoughts, insightful change, or the ability to generate effective motivation.
Two of the most common reactions to boredom, are activities like uninspired chatter (or “over-communication” as I like to call it), or simple reward for time output activities, like Zynga games, where value is built upon time spent. What these boredom cures are threatening is exactly what they are curing, the ability to not be bored. The motivation to not be bored is where we get the drive to open a book, learn something new, update something out of date, or fix something broken, moreover, boredom makes us want to better ourselves.
It seems ridiculous to think of Jack Kerouac or Jackson Pollock being too busy updating their Facebook status and keeping up with social pressures to boldly plow forward living the lives for which we admire them. They were both troubled souls but even as they were troubled they were equally brilliant innovators in their fields and the rules of communication.
One of the things that worries me about digital busyness is the homogeny of communication. The busier we are, the less time we have to craft our message. Social media communication is brilliant at forcing a rushed message. Digital social interaction is designed to be brief, for the moment and spontaneous. While it’s true that both Kerouac and Pollock were motivated and inspired by the spontaneous, they were also die-hard about the execution and specifics of their craft.
The design of digital communication is editing the most important thing: context. Imagine looking at a Pollock painting or reading a Kerouac poem without having ever heard jazz music. Our digital attention span is short. Our availability for diving deep into a topic and putting together the contexts grows increasingly rare and is affected by our digital attention span. Our ability to sit with anything and remain entertained is threatened by the constant onslaught of digital busyness.
Looking at communication and a lack of boredom in relation to social change, I can’t help but to think about Jesus Christ. I can’t think of another example of a communicator who was as confident, dedicated, powerful, and spoke through actions alone as Jesus.
Digital busyness has minimized our ability for action. Ideas are shared, disrupted and rejected in a matter of moments. The teachings of Jesus were powerful because there was intention and follow-through to take the message into the living world. In today’s terms, there are countless digital streams of social, environmental, or political communities, but their presence with public follow through too often seem uncommitted at best.
It’s funny to think of Jesus as too busy with his Farmville to take the message to the streets. Our digital attention span is designed for trivia and our social attention span is left wondering why we can’t adopt big ideas like electric cars or wind power.
There is a relationship between boredom and follow through. Ideally if we could keep our attention on something digitally communicated long enough to take social actions, I think there is a great momentum of positive change to be had. Greatness in any form requires dedication and dedication is only available for those who have the attention span.
The 3J’s were a few of the seemingly vast collection of undisputable masters of communication and they all were restlessness and irreverent towards their respective social structures. These communicators also had an unimaginable drive for their message, coupled with an incredibly crafted communication style. I’m concerned that our current digital social structure breeds lack of availability to develop an idea. There is too much pressure favoring the fleeting digital social engine and not enough idle time to develop the burning restless motivation to change things.
Looking at our digital busyness, I think the future of the digital world is best summed up by a Gertrude Stein quote, “there is no there, there”. Our minds may be occupied, but not in use. We have found different ways to fill idle time that only an advertiser would be proud. Digital busyness is training us to not be bored, to move subjects quickly and communicate briefly. Our attention span for communication is starting to resemble the effective ability of an anthill in the rain.
The next time you’re out to dinner and one person from the table of two across from you excuses themselves to the restroom, notice the immediacy with which the remaining person checks their phone for a text or email. Maybe their company is just that boring, maybe it was just a need to fill an idle moment quickly, regardless their date was left with nothing to do but reach for the first digital distraction. Maybe it’s just the horror of sitting alone! The horror of being alone with your thoughts!