Aspen Ideas Fest reporter’s notebook: ‘The art of being bored and brilliant’ |

Aspen Ideas Fest reporter’s notebook: ‘The art of being bored and brilliant’

Erica Robbie
The Aspen Times
IDEAS FESTIVAL PUBLIC EVENTS A look at the public events for Friday that have tickets available at the Wheeler Box Office or What: Texas’s Next Energy Boom—Wind and Sun Where: Hotel Jerome Ballroom When: noon Cost: $55 (includes lunch) Long known for oil and gas, Texas is dominated by a conservative legislature and governor’s office. But politics is local, business is business, and perception is not always reality. Texas currently leads the nation in wind development — with more than three times the installed capacity of California, plans to develop more utility-scale solar in the next 15 years than any other state, and is likely to achieve the goals of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, even if the plan is repealed. This session will feature players who were there at the beginning of this latest Texas energy boom. What: WTF (What’s the Future) When: 5:30 p.m. Where: Hotel Jerome Ballroom Cost: $25 Job loss from automation is not inevitable. It is a choice. The fundamental technology design pattern is that economic activity increases and jobs grow when you use technology to do more, rather than just to cut costs. What is the nature of the “more” we should be doing? What are the policies that might encourage it? What is the future shape of the economy that we already see emerging and that we ought to be supporting if we want a better, more human-centered economy? What: Robot Jazz: The Next Frontier in Music? (Live Musical Performance) Where: Doerr-Hosier Center, McNulty Room When: 8:30 p.m. Cost: $25 Meet Shimon, the marimba-playing robot that can improvise with fluency and skill exceeding that of most professional musicians. This atypical frontman’s band isn’t your average performance group either: Shimon’s band of humans hails not from a conservatory, but from the Center for Music Technology at Georgia Tech. Shimon and Friends’ sound and performance conjures greater the question: Can computers be creative?

Manoush Zomorodi hadn’t been bored in a while.

Feeling uninspired a few years ago while brainstorming ideas for her podcast, Zomorodi recalled the context surrounding her best ideas in the past.

“It was such a cliche,” Zomorodi said before the audience at the Aspen Ideas Festival Young Adult Forum on Wednesday night. “In the shower, when I was staring out the window, when we were driving somewhere.

“Basically, like, when I was bored.”

Then came the realization.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t think I’ve been bored since 2008 when I first got an iPhone,’” Zomorodi said Wednesday, one day shy of the iPhone’s 10th birthday. “That’s crazy.”

Zomorodi, whose podcast “Note to Self” focuses on the digital world and its influence on our daily lives, wondered if this lack of boredom could pose negative consequences.

Upon consulting with neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists, the answer is “actually, yes,” Zomorodi said.

Charged with convincing more than 200 14- to 24-year-olds why being bored is “amazing” in less than 10 minutes, the radio host used science, humor and testimonials to create a compelling case.

“When we get bored, it ignites a network in the brain called the ‘default mode,’” Zomorodi said.

She cited mundane activities such as “walking down the street and folding laundry” as instances of when our brain enters this autopilot-like state.

“This is when we come up with our most original ideas,” Zomorodi said. “It’s when we do problem solving.”

“What if we embrace this feeling that we run away from?” she posed.

To that end, Zomorodi asked her podcast listeners to partake in an experiment requiring them to decrease their phone time via a series of challenges.

The feedback from some participants was profound, according to Zomorodi, and in many cases indicated truly addictive behavior.

For instance, on day one — challenged with keeping their phones inside a pocket or bag — one participant described “absolutely itching” for her device.

Day two, upon deleting “that one app that just sucks you in,” Zomorodi said, another user reported “an embarrassingly lonely experience.”

Zomorodi reveals her findings and more in her upcoming book, “Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self,” out Sept. 5.

Her podcast can be found at

For more on Zomorodi and her solutions to life’s digital quandaries, visit

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