Have we lost our ability to do nothing?

Have we lost our ability to do nothing?

Most of the high-ranking activities in these plots are well-studied by psychologists. But how much do we know about doing nothing? Not much. Living in fast-paced, industrialized societies with constant access to entertainment, it’s easy to lose sight of the value of doing nothing

Manvir Singh

Some people these days have real problem doing nothing. As soon as some idle space opens up in their day, they begin to feel uncomfortable, restless and look for a way to fill it with something more ‘productive’. They, feel driven to ‘work’ and see doing nothing as a waste of precious time.

But ‘doing nothing’ may actually be an important activity. It may be doing something.

In this Twitter thread, anthropologist Manvir Singh (@mnvrsngh) reflects the use of time within a number of indigenous communities that were studied mainly in the 70s and 80s.

Researchers mapped out what people in each community were doing during their waking hours. They typically used around 60 different activity codes so the day could be graphed.
For example, here is a chart for the hunter, gatherer Efé people from the Ituri Rainforest of Central Africa:

Turns out one of the most popular activities was ‘idle, doing nothing’.
To be clear, this wasn’t just chatting or napping or doing minor activities such as fixing tools. This was wholeheartedly doing nothing.

Whilst doing nothing did not always take first place in the communities studied. It was often in the top 4. It was apparently seen as a significant use of time.

Of course, you say. There wasn’t much to do back then.
Life was so much simpler and down-time was not distracted by Facebook and Netflix.

Maybe. And maybe there was a lot more going on in the doing of nothing.
A something that we have largely forgotten how to do.

You can dig deeper and read the entire Twitter thread here:


Main photo:  Drew Coffman 

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