In this week’s The Daily Beast, writer Taylor Lorenz suggests that despite limitless access to technology and social media, teenagers actually get bored with the internet. In fact, there’s already a new term for this feeling of ennui: phone bored.
Contrary to the popular notion that because teens are online 24/7 they’re never bored, the truth is that today’s teens experience boredom in a completely different way. Because they always have access to their emails, social media accounts, online games, etc., they have no time to daydream or let their minds wander.
Instead, the boredom that Generation Z suffers from—the generation born from 1988 to 2010, who grew up with smartphones and high internet speeds, is the boredom of “seen this, done that” on the net. It’s human nature for people to eventually get used to what’s around them, and it’s no surprise that today’s young people have gotten used to high speed technology. Therefore, many teenagers today especially, have gotten tired of the internet.
Phone boredom can be described as endlessly and mindlessly going through apps and sites on your phone, and not feeling engaged or interested in anything that you see. Older generations used to flip through different channels, but teens today can sometimes open as many as 30 applications on their smartphones, looking for something that they’ll find interesting.
Some teens compare it to walking around in circles, saying that they tune out and daydream while going through different apps on their phone. They make look like they’re engaged, but they’re actually very bored.
Seventeen year old Maxine Marcus, who founded her own teen consulting business, The Ambassadors Company, said, “I can be in my bed for hours on my phone, and that’s me being bored. You think that we’re so entertained because we’re on our phones all the time, but just because we’re on it, doesn’t mean we’re engaged or excited. I get bored on my phone all the time.
“When you’re bored on your phone, you’re just sitting with your own thoughts. You’re on it, but it’s just an action so your brain still goes wherever it wants to go. You get bored and you start thinking and daydreaming,” she added.
Now like the rest of us, most teens are actually interested and engaged in the activities on their phone—liking, commenting, posting, watching videos, reading, etc. Apps are designed to keep us highly engaged, after all. This is not phone boredom.
Phone boredom happens when you’ve gone through all your apps, again and again, and nothing catches your attention. Some teenagers actually feel like they’ve seen it all on the Internet already, especially those who got their first smart phones when they were still in elementary school.
Fourteen year old Sarah put it this way, “I’ll go on Insta and it’s just people all talking about the same things. I’m like, I already heard that or I already saw that. It’s like, when you’ve seen everything there is to see in your Insta feed or on the internet. We see the same lip gloss, the same eyebrow style, the same meme like 14 times. It all gets old and then you get bored.”
And 15-year-old Violet says this, “Sometimes I feel like I’ve seen everything there is to see on the internet. I’ll circle around on different sites or apps. Sometimes I feel like I’ve reached the end of the internet, I’ll just watch the same videos on YouTube until eventually I’m so bored I start clicking random things on my phone.”
While some teens go offline and engage in real-life activities as a cure for phone boredom, others look for ways to relieve the ennui they feel by thinking of even more creative high tech activities on their smartphones themselves—such as making up new memes or starting new accounts on social media. Others create new videos, music or art.
Though parents often warn their children and teens about the dangers of staying online too much, other experts believe that phone boredom can have its upside. Because phone boredom causes the youth to look for creative ways to solve it, they are prevented from going into more damaging patterns of thought, which only makes them more unhappy.
A researcher at Department of Psychological Medicine at King’s College in London, Adam Perkins, says that parents should not automatically assume that too much online time is bad for the brain of young people. “Evolution takes a long time to catch up with technology. Smartphones came out ten years ago, it’s not enough time to change kids’ evolution of their brains… I think I’m quite optimistic about the benefits of smartphones, they’re a good thing.”