Originally published Friday, 25 October 2013.
Boredom used to look different. When when my husband and I started dating, smart phones didn't exist. If we were out and had a question, we had to wait until we got home to look up the answer. If we forgot about it by then, it probably wasn't worth our time anyhow. If we had a fun story to share, we would tell our friends when we actually saw them. Or we had the sweet pleasure of keeping it between us. There was no digital shrine to go back and see how many people liked what we had to say. There was a time when my only computer was a desktop upstairs. I could either spend time with the people I loved OR I could be on the computer. I could not do both simultaneously.
Flash forward to 2010. I wait in the car while he runs into Trader Joe's. I ask him to leave his iPhone so I can “check stuff”. Making it sound like something I have to do makes me feel better about scrolling through email and facebook in the five minutes it will take him to buy bananas. In the short drive to Target (and by short, I literally mean crossing from one side of the street to the other), I check the weather and look up some meaningless pop culture news. We share a laugh over something we see in the store. He tweets it out and I post it to facebook while we wait to pay. I’ll check back every 20 minutes or so to see how many people “liked” our story. That night, somehow we will manage to watch TV, "talk" and surf the internet...at the same time.
We didn’t suddenly develop a hunger for instant gratification when he got an iPhone or we acquired laptops, it just became easier to feed our addiction to having what we want as soon as we want it. In reality, we weren't actually getting what we wanted. We were just getting something to fill the space.
My husband sold his iPhone six months ago and while our desire for immediate satisfaction didn't go away, we did become more aware of it. Without a 4-inch internet hub in our back pocket, the drive for "give it to me now" can be seen in our quick retrieval of the computer as soon as we get a break, the number of times we visit particular websites in a given day with the hope that a new story will be posted, the incessant need to communicate with everyone all the time, and our inability to tell Netflix "no, we aren't going to watch another episode of Friday Night Lights tonight...even if Tim Riggins has been devastatingly misunderstood. Again."
The longer I sit with this awareness of myself, the more it makes me uncomfortable; so I’m addressing it in these four arenas…
Approval: I’m pretty sure if you googled “needs immediate feedback”, my picture would appear in the top right corner of your screen. At least it should. Under my headshot you might find this description “Cara Joyner: seeks immediate feedback and approval in order to avoid the uncomfortable feelings of insecurity and uncertainty found in prolonged silence.” When facebook added the ability to "like" and comment on statuses, it was like giving candy to a toddler. I couldn't get enough. Pressing into this place with a goal of change has meant taking a big step back from social media. Over the course of our marriage, this has also meant allowing BJ to retire from the weary job of immediate-evaluater and constant-pat-on-the-backer. Those spots have been vacant in recent years.
Entertainment: The take away from this one is pretty simple. Watch less TV and read more books. Not online articles. Not blogs. Books.
Information: One of my favorite commercials of 2012 was a Toyota commercial with a hipster girl lamenting over her parents' social life. They nailed a few generational traits with her character. In the beginning she says, "I read an article...well, I read the majority of an article." Love it. Pretty much sums it up for a lot of us. Finish the article even after getting the "basic idea". Just because I have a question and the means for finding the answer, that doesn't mean I need to or should search for it right away. If I read the news in the morning, I can wait to look at it again tonight or even tomorrow. If something huge happens, I'll hear about it.
Communication: In the first week my husband and I were dating, he stopped me mid-sentence and said, "you know, we don't have to talk all the time. It's okay if we just sit here and don't say anything." I love that man. Sometimes it really is better to wait and say it later. Or not at all. BJ and I have found one of the most difficult lessons in our marriage is to be able to shelve a serious conversation until morning, once we are rested and less emotional. We are learning to say "I love you", go to bed and deal with it when the sun comes up.
Just because we can fill a space, doesn't mean we should. It's a work in progress, something we are talking about in our marriage and examining how it shapes our family. We have a long way to go between here and where we'd like to be, but it's already clear that with each step away from the desire to instantly satisfy...and with each step towards a more patient center...time slows, anxiety dissipates, and our minds are free to think about much bigger things.
Silence is good and stillness a treasure. Don't waste them.