In an age where multitasking is the way of life, and there are more internet-connected devices than people—which many people use even in the bathroom—people have forgotten how to do nothing. Our technology saves us from that sad end—as long as we’ve got smartphones, we’re safe from nothingness. Turns out, that nothingness is now so unappealing that a recent study conducted by scientists at the University of Virginia and Harvard shows that participants would rather shock themselves than be alone with their thoughts.
It sounds like an episode of the Simpsons, doesn’t it? An adaptation of the Milgram Experiment for the digital age. It sounds like it can’t possibly true, although of course it is. Science breaks down the study. Participants were asked to turn over their cellphones, other devices, books, notepads, or anything else they’d use as entertainment while not in the company of others. They then had to sit in a room for a little while—and I’m talking really a little while, only up to 15 minutes. They were simply supposed to sit, undistracted, and engage their thoughts. They could fantasize, or plan what to have for dinner, or think about how crazy science studies are—any and all thoughts were fair game, as long as they were the only means of “entertainment.” Needless to say, people weren’t keen on this endeavor.