Over winter break I did a lot of reading and watching and listening. I read books by people who are smarter than me, and read comments online from people who may not be. I listened to hosts discuss current events on their podcasts and kept steady watch of my Twitter feed to keep up with the news. It's addictive to feel like something's going on, especially when around you, it seems like there's a whole lot of nothing.
At Luther, when I'm in classes surrounded by smart, engaged students and professors to discuss ideas and news with, I feel like I'm part of something important. Or, rather, like I'm part of an important conversation. Like these big, world events are transported to Decorah through my discussions of them with my classmates. But when I go home, I'm alone, devoid of world event-transportation. So, I turn to what makes me feel important: the news. Whether it's current events, politics or pop culture, I have developed a rabid need to be in the know. To always be watching. Always consuming.
It's easy for me to get trapped in this idea that by enabling my obsessive media habits, I'm staying informed and I'm growing as a person. But if I’m always always always consuming, am I just growing into a big, bloated information creature, always ready to spit out knowledge? Or does the information I consume lose its place in my mind as soon as I hear something new? If I don't allow myself to synthesize, what am I gaining? How am I growing?
Winter break gave me ample time to reflect on these questions. I did not take advantage of this time, nor do I take advantage of any available time anymore. Whenever I have a moment, I "inform myself." I check the news, because checking the news is responsible and smart, right? On my break at work, I check my phone. If the plot of a movie starts getting slow, I check my phone. While writing this blog post, I checked my phone any time I couldn’t think of the next sentence. Is this what being informed looks like? Is this personal growth? Actually, so I've learned, it's addiction. It's my brain craving a hit of dopamine that is derived from checking Twitter and Facebook and Instagram.
This isn't a new idea, that people are addicted to their phones. The aforementioned people smarter than me have written books and conducted studies on the subject. I'm concerned with this idea I've adapted, that always consuming media is "keeping my finger on the pulse." It's "staying in the know." It's being a good, informed citizen. In a world of infinite information, any second I’m not consuming, it feels like I’m missing out, especially when right now, we’re in a new "golden age" of television, Netflix has countless hours of content, as do YouTube and Spotify and every media platform. My favorite show might be out there and I’m missing it! All these factors, along with the science-y things going on in my brain, cause a prevailing anxiety driving me to consume all the time.
I am glad to be back on campus for J-term, where I only take one class (I'm in Literature by Women, taught by Marie Drews). I get to read a lot, while also discussing and analyzing what I'm reading. I see it as a chance to slow down and refocus. I'm taking steps like deleting social media apps from my phone, and embracing boredom. Boredom has a negative connotation, so instead I've been mentally calling it "reflectiondom," which is a really dumb name. I'm taking time to retrain my brain to focus, which will be unpleasant, but beneficial in the long run. I don’t want to burn out. My addiction stemmed from my love of learning and my desire to be a more informed person, but I think it's time for me to kill the idea that I need to know everything. It’s okay to not be busy all the time. It’s okay to be bored.
In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport emphasizes the importance of boredom. He equates being bored to brain training: "Much in the same way that athletes must take care of their bodies outside of their training sessions, you’ll struggle to achieve the deepest levels of concentration if you spend the rest of your time fleeing the slightest hint of boredom." So not only will boredom help with my concentration, I think it will also help me get used to being alone with my own thoughts again, as opposed to constantly filling my head with the thoughts of others.
I have no plans to stop reading and watching and listening; however, I do have plans to be more responsible with my media consumption. I’ve come to realize that taking in information is only half of the battle; I need to give myself time to think, understand and be bored.