For years, I thought that I was “addicted” to the internet. But then I wondered, If that’s true, why do I feel so liberated and relieved every time I disconnect?

Over time I’ve finally realized: I’m not addicted, but I do use the internet as my “filler.” Whenever I’m bored, or I get stuck in my work, or I have a bit of free time, I turn to the internet. It has become an instinct. Waiting in line? Pull out the iPod Touch and see if there’s free wifi around. Can’t figure out the next bit of a story? Check email and Twitter real quick. Boyfriend is watching a baseball game you don’t care about? Hop around the blogosphere to keep up with the latest news and posts.

I think this behavior always seemed okay to me because it’s “productive.” The era of multi-tasking trained me to believe that every waking moment should be put to use. The problem with that is, maximizing my time leaves little room for creativity.

As an only child with parents who worked long hours at their small business, I learned to entertain myself. Each day after school was over, but before my parents were ready for dinner, I built houses out of cardboard, made dolls out of paper, scribbled stories in my notebook. Imagination was my “filler,” writing my addiction.

That’s how this all started, you know?

And that’s what I have to get back to. I need to learn to embrace my boredom again. To endure the quiet times instead of trying to fill them with activity. To redefine productivity as characters and dialogue, not emails and networking.

As part of that, I’ve recently instated a no-internet-between-midnight-and-noon rule. It’s only been a week, but I’m optimistic about my progress. Like with Aisha’s request/suggestion, it’s not the kind of thing that will change me or my life overnight. But I think it’s a step in the right direction.

And if I take enough of those steps, I might actually end up where I want to be.

13 responses to “A better way to fill the quiet (Or: Embracing boredom)”

  1. T. S. Bazelli Avatar

    I’ve instituted a 1 hour of internet per evening rule. I’m online enough when I’m at work. It’s been really great to cut back when I get home. It just seems like there’s more time. The internet can also be mildly stressful. Its like being in a crowded room where everyone’s shouting sometimes. It’s done wonders for my stress levels to cut back. :) I also weeded my feed reader recently… which has also been a good thing.

  2. Anthony Lee Collins Avatar

    As a former Quaker (or just as a guy who’s a teeny bit pedantic :-) ), I have to point out that you’re not embracing boredom, as the title of your post says; you’re just embracing silence. And silence can be a pretty terrific thing. Your internet rule is probably similar to why I don’t have a television, and why I always handwrite first drafts.

  3. Shari Avatar

    It’s amazing how often we all turn to the internet – often, I think, as second nature and not even realizing it. I’ve taken to limiting my time online during the evenings and especially over the weekends. Sure, it’s a wonderful resource, but – and this is particularly true for writers, I think – what can be better than getting out there and experiencing life? That’s when our imaginations are stretched the most!

  4. Sonje Avatar

    I love posts like this. They make me feel good about all the time I force my children to play on their own because I want (sometimes need) to do something else. A lot of parents in my circle seem to be actively involved in entertaining their children in a way that I most definitely am not, but guess what: my kids can entertain themselves. Hopefully that will serve them for the rest of their lives.

    As long as we don’t get them each an iPod Touch. ;)

  5. Kristan Avatar

    “It just seems like there’s more time. The internet can also be mildly stressful.” Yes and yes!

    I will say that I find it easier to just not turn on the wifi until noon, vs. getting online and then having to make myself get off and stay off for X amount of time, but regardless of ease, any time away from the internet is beneficial for me!

    Lol I should have put boredom in quotes too. Because that’s maybe not the perfect word, but it conveys what I’m getting at. (Silence doesn’t work either, b/c I am often playing music. :P)

    Isn’t it funny how many of us writers are so devoted to the blogosphere and yet find it absolutely essential/invigorating to get away from it?

    Oh man, I could write a million posts about modern-day parenting. Not that everyone’s “doing it wrong” or anything, but… Yes, in general, I think kids get a lot out of doing things for themselves, and sometimes they’re not given that opportunity.

    You seem like a very thoughtful, aware type of parent, and I’m sure your girls will turn out well. :)

  6. Juliann Wetz Avatar

    Kristan –
    You’re not reading this yet (since it’s early morning), but I think what you’re saying is so smart. I’ve never been one to be connected all the time; it probably has something to do with my age, or that I’m just not that tech savvy. I don’t know. They call me “Amish” at work. :)

    We all need downtime and a little boredom. I think you’re right in thinking that ‘boredom’ leads to inspiration and creativity.

    You’re very wise, Kristan. Very wise.

  7. Anthony Lee Collins Avatar

    Sonje: I really agree. Not that I’ve been a parent, but I was a kid, and I learned early on to entertain myself. I had no siblings, and my paremts had very demanding jobs, so I made things up. Still do. :-)

  8. Julia Avatar

    I love this post. I’m not only trying to walk away from the computer more often, but to tame the lion of an idea that I must be productive all of my waking minutes.

  9. Kristan Avatar

    That’s so kind of you to say. :) (And “Amish” is cute, hehe.)

    I have a feeling a lot of us in today’s world are trying to tame that particular lion.

  10. John Barnes Avatar

    Another vote of confidence to this post & blogger; that’s a terrific insight into why the internet is so attractive but a couple hours of it will have brain cells running out your ears like tapioca. Quiet is good.

  11. Natalia Sylvester Avatar

    Could not agree more with all of this. What ever happened to people-watching while standing in a long line, or listening to the sounds of random conversations, the ocean, etc? That’s where everything that made me a writer comes from. We’re essentially robbing ourselves of the opportunity to spend time with our thoughts and imagination if every spare moment needs to be spent consuming Tweets, blogs, emails, etc.

  12. […] Embrace boredom — Kristan Hoffman writes a very short & sweet blog post about how the Internets have become filler, and embracing boredom, and letting our imagination pass our free time, might be a good jump start to our writing juices. I like what she says; I, too, love unplugging for a while. […]

  13. Kristan Avatar

    Thanks! And tapioca, huh? Interesting choice. :P

    So glad it resonated with you. Thanks for the Twitter mention, too!