By Aran Levasseur
Think of sitting quietly in a spartan room. There are no TVs, computers, smartphones, books, magazines or music. If you’re like most people, this probably sounds like a recipe for boredom. In our culture, we avoid moments of “not-doing” because we don’t associate boredom with having any value. And our aversion to boredom and not-doing have been amplified in our hyper-connected age.
It’s been said that the currency of the Net is attention. As connectivity penetrates the furthest reaches of our lives, all of us, but schools in particular, need to treat attention as a skill to be cultivated.
A torrent of stimulation is just a click or touchscreen away, ensuring that even the slightest trace of boredom can be mitigated through constant screen connectivity. As beneficial as this perpetual connectivity can be, neuroscience has been uncovering some detrimental side effects.
Recent brain imaging studies reveal that sections of our brains are highly active during down time. This has led scientists to imply that moments of not-doing are critical for connecting and synthesizing new information, ideas and experiences. Dr. Michael Rich, a professor at Harvard Medical School put it this way in a 2010 New York Times article: “Downtime is to the brain what sleep is to the body.”
“Downtime is to the brain what sleep is to the body.”
According to a report from the University of California, San Diego, in 28 years — from 1980 to 2008 — our consumption of information increased 350 percent, while our downtime continues to shrink.
In the midst of this multimedia blitzkrieg, the importance of mindfulness and focused attention is rising. If we can’t cultivate mindfulness and focused attention while sitting quietly in a room, then how can we expect to bring these qualities of mind into turbulent circumstances — both on and offline?