I drove to Red Wing, Minnesota from Richmond, Virginia recently, and back. It was quite the drive: about 18 hours there, and maybe 27 hours home (took the long way back—via Brampton, Ontario). During this very long drive, I used a friend’s Audible account to listen to audiobooks, because I knew I’d get bored–and also deeply sick of searching for acceptable radio stations. (I got standards, y’all.) This worked well and it helped pass the time, which is what it was meant to do. But it also stopped me from thinking. It felt intensely passive at times, and I just didn’t like how that felt.
On a more recent trip, I traveled from Richmond to Neshanic Station, New Jersey, then to Newton, Massachusetts, and then to Bowdoinham, Maine. This was a three-day trip, so none of the driving days were anywhere near as long as the three biggest driving days on my previous trip. There was also more to see, it being the very densely populated Northeast—and the drivers were more demented. Also, the radio stations were much better. But I’d still planned on spending the trip listening to a book. Somehow though, without actually planning it, I didn’t end up playing an audiobook.
The result? Deep thoughts. Ideas. Solutions. Alliterative blog titles. Wandering daydreams involving…well, never mind about that. I even recorded some notes with a voice recording app on my phone. The point is, my mind was active. I did the sort of thinking that can only be done with stretches of time and nothing else to occupy me—I mean, aside from traffic, construction, rain storms, and a weird mass of press in a small town in Pennsylvania. (Only my GPS knows why I drove to Neshanic Station via PA.)
Time sitting still or walking is arguably better for such thinking, as it’s less distracting, but this experience reminded me that I have had essential epiphanies while driving. I’ve come up with such valuable connections and solutions, while gently trying to tease apart knots in plots or a dissertation chapter, for example, that I’ve pulled over to write, which is saying a lot for me.
And of course, it reminded me of how little time I actually spend bored anymore, with nothing to do but think. My cell phone has saved me from having to think while waiting on lines, sitting in waiting rooms, waiting for events to start, trying to wake up or fall asleep, and thousands of other times. Yay?
I do sometimes wonder what I’ve failed to accomplish because of this great benefit of technology. One thing I do know for sure is that I won’t be listening to an audiobook on my trip home from Bowdoinham. Not that I think they’re evil, and not that I won’t ever listen to one in the future—they definitely serve a purpose—but I need more thinking time, and this will be a great opportunity to take some.