Why you should read the phone book

Photo by Dawn Passonage, who captures boredom in her project Boring People

We hate being bored. So much so that many of us would rather self-administer an electric shock than do nothing for 15 minutes. In a study where participants were asked to entertain themselves with their thoughts but told they could press a button that they knew would give them an electric shock, a stunning 25% of women and 67% of men chose to press that button. Yes, you read that right, 67%. And that is despite the fact, that they had told researchers earlier that they would pay money to avoid the shock. Those who did press the button pressed it between one and four times (with the exception of one person who pressed it 190 times in those 15 minutes).

Luckily, it’s 2022 and we don’t really need to be bored anymore. Our phones are always close enough to come to the rescue. With the flick of a thumb, we can scroll and click our boredom away (and replace it with FOMO). But it turns out, every time we do that, we also click, scroll and swipe away a chance to be more creative. When we’re bored, our mind wanders and that is useful for creativity.

In a study in 2013, participants were tasked to read the phone book. Then they were asked to generate ideas for what you could do with a plastic cup. The group who had to read the phone book came up with more creative solutions than the other groups with less boring tasks.

The appeal of the dull hasn’t escaped artists either. In an interview the Booker Prize-winning novelist Anne Enright said “I wait for boredom to kick in because boredom, for me, is a very good sign.” Agatha Christie, J.K. Rowling and many others have taken note too.

It’s not the boredom itself that is creative though. When we’re bored, we’re motivated to look for something else and that something else can either be our Instagram account or we can let our minds wander, at which point there’s a real chance to discover something new. Who knows, perhaps Einstein was just really bored and there’s great boredom behind every great invention.

So next time you’re standing in line or are invited to a media PCA, fret not, it’s simply a chance for creativity.

In light of all this, I think it’s only right that I start and end my creative briefings by boring you. I’m thinking I’ll start by reading out GDPR regulations and end by telling you everything you never wanted to know about pressure cookers. I am open to suggestions though. I have also, to get you all started, copied an excerpt of the ISO 68-1 which defines the metric screw thread. You are all very welcome.

This part of ISO 68 specifies the basic profile for ISO general purpose metric screw threads (M). The following standards contain provisions which, through reference in this text, constitute provisions of this part of ISO 68. At the time of publication the editions indicated were valid. All standards are subject to revision and parties to agreements based on this part of ISO 68 are encouraged to investigate the possibility of applying the most recent editions of the standards indicated below. Members of IEC and ISO maintain registers of currently valid International Standards. For the purpose of this part of ISO 68 the definitions given in ISO 5408 apply. Only the term “basic profile” which might be usefully restated is defined below. The theoretical profile of a screw thread in an axial plane defined by theoretical dimensions and angles common to internal and external threads. The fundamental deviations and tolerances specified in ISO 965-1 are applied to the dimensions of the basic profile shown in Figure 1 and derived from Table 1. Not bored enough? Keep reading here.

By Carole Raeber

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