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Why our boredom feeds wasted time on social media

Giving ourselves to the mandate and mission of God can quiet the noise of our day

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October 19, 2021

The world is many things. It is both stunningly beautiful and unquestionably broken. It is vast and expansive, and surprisingly small. And it is loud. Very, very loud. The noise that we hear so often now, though, is not the sound of thunder or rushing waterfalls, but rather what G.K. Chesterton described in his book Orthodoxy as the bustle of “human repose.” 

That contradictory phrase — bustle of human repose — has become even more true in our own day than it was in Chesterton’s. A sort of societal idleness, masked as activity, has reached its widespread peak in our era of social media. And the noise is almost unbearable. 

Boredom will not be silent

As a self-acknowledged grouch when it comes to noise, I should start by stating something obvious: noise, in and of itself, is not inherently negative. In fact, some of the most moving and formative experiences of life involve a high decibel count, like a good belly-laugh with friends or the collective voice of a congregation singing to and about the Triune God. And we can be sure that these sorts of joyful noises will come with us when heaven and its King descend and this age gives way to the age to come. 

But this is not the noise that Chesterton had in mind when he wrote Orthodoxy, nor is it the clamor that fills our minds when we scroll through social media. 

Despite all the good that we’ve convinced ourselves we’re doing on our respective social media platforms, we are without question contributing to a societal noise that is not healthy by filling every idle moment with a post or tweet, or simply scrolling our timelines. Part of it could be, as Blaise Pascal wrote, that “all of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

But, in this case, I suspect it is more so the fruit of boredom or, to use Chesterton’s word, repose masked as activity. And what’s more, this deafening noise, this way of idling away our days through the glow of a screen, has deadened our capacity to embrace the blessed monotony of real life. 

The cure for boredom

Has there ever been a time in history in which more hours of our day were wasted? On bathroom breaks, between meetings, on the clock, and across the table from those dearest to us, we’re haunted by a perpetual boredom fed by the very thing with which we seek to cure it. The constant buzz of social media — it’s noise and sensationalism — draws us in, rescuing us from and reminding us of our life’s mundanity all at the same time. It is a self-perpetuating black hole of boredom. 

But there is a cure. And for Christians, it’s spelled out for us in the black-and-white text (or red letters, depending on your Bible) of the scriptures. The cure for boredom is obedience to the commands of God; particularly in obedience to the cultural mandate and the Great Commission. 

1. Cultural mandate

In the opening book of the Old Testament, not long after God had formed Adam “out of the dust from the ground,” Moses wrote, “The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it” (Gen. 2:15). This text is part of what has historically been referred to as the “cultural mandate” (Gen. 1).

The cultural mandate, to summarize very briefly, is at the very least the commission that God gave to Adam, and to us, “to work and watch over” the areas where he has placed us. For Adam and Eve, this was the garden in Eden. For us, it is our homes and our places of business, and wherever else God has placed us. As God’s likeness, we have all been given a task to attend to. 

On this topic, I can’t help but think of Samuel Hamilton, one of the prominent characters in John Steinbeck’s novel, East of Eden. When introducing Samuel, an able and tireless farmer, the narrator writes, “He was a busy man. He had no time for nostalgia.” Samuel Hamilton was a busy man; he had no time for Chesterton’s “bustle of human repose.”

Boredom is not an unhealthy thing. It’s what we do with our boredom that reveals whether we are healthy.

So, before we allow boredom to drive us online to the noise of social media and to the neglect of our God-given responsibilities, maybe we, like Samuel Hamilton, should go do the dishes. Or instead of mindlessly scrolling through our feeds to pass the time, maybe we should faithfully serve the work our employer has hired us to do. Maybe we should retire from the mindless bustle that takes up so many hours of our day and instead take up the activity of faithfully carrying out the cultural mandate, wherever God has placed us. 

The jungle of weeds overtaking my home’s flower beds bears witness to my own neglect. What areas of responsibility have you neglected in exchange for idle time on social media?

2. Great Commission

On top of the cultural mandate lies the commission given by Jesus, to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe” the commands that he gave to all his disciples (Matt. 28:18-20). As if working and keeping the places where God has put us wasn’t enough to stave off boredom, here is another task: go and deliver the greatest news the world has ever known to everyone you encounter.

Moreover, though we are certainly messengers of good news, by God’s own decree, we are much more than that. We are “ministers of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18), “ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), and, by virtue of our union with Christ through his Spirit, we are those who’ve entered the “strong man’s” (Satan) house and begun to “plunder his goods” (Matt. 12:29). When we carry out the Great Commission, sharing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and when our hearers set their allegiance on Jesus in response, we get to witness the plundering of Satan’s house. 

One of the phrases that my pastor repeats often is “if you’re a Christian who’s bored, you’re doing it wrong.” So, if we find ourselves bored, and prone to medicate our boredom with idle scrolling, let us commit ourselves afresh to the mission of God.

Make friends with boredom

Boredom is not an unhealthy thing. It’s what we do with our boredom that reveals whether we are healthy. 

Does our boredom send us to the digital ether in search of stimulation? Does it compel us to embrace the noise of social media because we’re afraid of the quiet? Has our boredom given way to idleness, a sort of addiction to the mind-numbing habit of seeking entertainment as we scroll endlessly down? 

In our day, boredom comes easily. We have no lack of entertainment, but we nevertheless live in a boredom epidemic. And if we continue to feed our boredom with paltry substitutes like the never-ceasing noise of social media, we will find ourselves in a perpetual state of unhealth. But if we make friends with our boredom, if we respond to its message by giving ourselves to the mandate and mission of God, we will find that boredom is our ally, not something to be stuffed down with the idle noise of our social platforms. 

If you’ve grown weary of feeding your boredom with the noisy bustle pouring out of your social feeds, hear the clarion call of God through your boredom: “Go and make disciples.” 

Jordan Wootten

Jordan Wootten serves as a News and Culture Channel Editor at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He is a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he earned his Master of Arts in Theological Studies. Jordan is married to Juliana, and they have three children. Read More by this Author