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A message to this generation: Get bored

Students lined up near the Student Union Memorial Center round-about all staring at their cell phones. (Photo by Jamie Lindsay/ Arizona Sonora News)

BUZZZZZ. Alarm goes off. Check emails. Get dressed. Check Twitter. Eat breakfast. Scroll through Instagram.

Technology disrupts and controls thinking. It has created a need to be connected, and scientists say this generation has a problem; there is a benefit to being bored.

Whether it is to avoid awkward elevator rides, seek information about the news, or look at the latest posts from family and friends, social media is turning into an avid routine for many people. This is a generation that does not know how to be bored. According to experts, 7 in 10 Americans use social media and spend over seven hours on their smartphones. Every. Single. Day.

Experts say not being bored is interrupting creativity, memories and productivity. Excessive social media use is detrimental to not only our relationships, but our physical and mental health.

Sitting while using technology has become the new smoking. Turning to cell phones to scroll through in moments of awkwardness or boredom has pushed our minds out of their “default mode,” which is where people construct positive thinking.

Students sit on bench and against the wall outside campus bookstore staring down at their phones. (Photo by Jamie Lindsay)

Shannon Rauch, assistant professor of psychology at Benedictine University in Mesa, studies the effects of social media on mental health and behaviors.

“When we turn to screens to reduce boredom, we limit the work that our own minds have to do to reach a desired level of arousal,” Rauch said. “We are blocking opportunities to expand creativity and problem-solving when we rely on external stimuli.”

People are forgetting what it is like to live in a world without technology, and for millennials, technology has been with this generation since Day One.

Experts say being bored allows the human minds to think creatively. People have the opportunity to be more strategic toward their goals after a state of boredom.

Diana Daly, an assistant professor who studies communities through digital technology at the University of Arizona, believes people need to be reminded of the benefits of listening and observing.

Students walking through the campus mall with their heads down solely paying attention to their cellular devices. (Photo by Jamie Lindsay)

“Observing situations including standing in line or waiting in a car can give you a rich pool of information that leads to themes of thought and breakthroughs,” Daly said. “Boredom is a state of receptivity toward the world and your processing of its mysteries; everyone should experience it.”

In 2005, 7 percent of young adults between the ages 18 and 29 used social media platforms. By 2016, that number has increased to 86 percent, according to the Pew Research Center.

David Sbarra, a University of Arizona psychology professor, focuses his studies around social connectedness and health.

“We have a massive desire to be understood and to connect with others. That is the core — an evolved trait that promotes human survival to connect with others,” Sbarra said. “If it is an intermittent signal to go to your email, or Twitter, or check Snapchat, then that behavior will be reinforced. So we see the addictive nature of these technologies. They are shaped and designed to get us hooked.”

And because users are getting hooked, it reveals health problems that may increase anxiety and depression.

In a 2014 study by Rauch, socially anxious individuals showed an increased physiological arousal if looking up a person’s social media page before meeting them face-to-face.

“When we scope out a person on Google or social media, we see them in their best light and may start thinking about our own shortcomings,” Rauch said.

These emotions create feelings of anxiousness and self-doubt. People should focus on their own value systems to avoid comparing themselves to others, she said.

“For some people it’s fine. It’s just an extension of how they’re living their lives,” Sbarra said. “But, for other people we will see that a device activates all these goals and motivations that are not being met, and for that reason that puts more people at risk for developing more anxiety and depression.”

The reason people are refusing to let themselves be bored is that social media reinforces or “rewards” them through likes and comments on personal posts. This drives the addictive personality of consistently pulling up a social media app, like Instagram, to see how many likes a recent post or picture has received.

Smartphones have even given people reminders to do things so they will not be bored.

Another student focuses her attention on her cell phone as she walks through the school campus. (Photo by Jamie Lindsay)

“We have things like Siri now,” said Caleela Ingram, a student at the University of Arizona. “Siri set an alarm for me. Siri set a reminder for me. She does it all, and we have calendars and reminders for everything — we don’t have to do anything ourselves anymore.”

This constant use is taking away moments where people can recall memories, think about their future, or brainstorm creative ideas to help them personally or professionally.

“Like muscles, our brains respond to use,” Rauch said. “Again, if we are constantly seeking stimulation from outside sources, we are denying ourselves the chance to develop creativity and problem solving skills.”.

Added Rauch: “It is probably good advice for all of us to turn off the screen from time to time.”

Get ready for bed. Check emails again. Lie in bed. Scroll through Instagram again. Set alarm for the next day. It all comes full circle. By powering down, people might just find the boredom they need.

“I think that in the future people are going to get up and say they don’t want to be a slave to these devices,” Sbarra said. “That is essentially what has happened to us.”

Jamie Lindsay is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service with the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at jamielindsay@email.arizona.edu

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