Boredom

Bore­dom is intrigu­ing. In this age, when there are count­less activ­i­ties, hob­bies, spe­cial inter­ests, and diver­sions both online and offline, bore­dom seems a dif­fi­cult pin­na­cle to achieve. Yet it is as com­mon today as it was in ear­li­er times when peo­ple had to occu­py them­selves with far few­er things. When­ev­er I watch a peri­od film, one of the things I always won­der about is “What the hell did these folks do in their whole days in that era”?! If I had lived as a human any time before, say, 1940, I think I would have died of bore­dom.

Obvi­ous­ly, it doesn’t work that way. Our thresh­old of get­ting engaged is decreas­ing at the same rate as our inge­nu­ity in invent­ing new ways of occu­py­ing our atten­tion.

When pop­u­lar­ized, I am sure the tele­phone must have saved many souls count­less hours of bore­dom — the abil­i­ty to call a far­away friend must have led to excite­ment that last­ed sev­er­al years, if not decades. We treat voice calls on the tele­phone most­ly as a nui­sance today. When the TV start­ed appear­ing in many house­holds, it must have been a very excit­ing era for the whole fam­i­ly to get togeth­er to watch news and enter­tain­ment. We now call it the Idiot Box. It was thrilling to be able to chat over the Inter­net on IRC chan­nels with unknown friends dur­ing the ‘90s and mes­sen­ger apps with known friends lat­er. Now we dis­able chat when we check Face­book and log on to Skype and oth­er mes­sag­ing ser­vices in “Invis­i­ble” mode.

How­ev­er, this uber-con­nect­ed­ness with oth­ers, this end­less sup­ply of online stream­ing music and videos and games, doesn’t pre­vent bore­dom. At times, we still get bored.

When I get bored, I feel a bit guilty. You know, so many things to do, so lit­tle time. How can I get bored when there is so much I can expe­ri­ence, check out, play, con­nect, com­mu­ni­cate, share, etc.? There are hours of music, dozens of movies, innu­mer­able arti­cles, many books, and so on that I have yet to expe­ri­ence that were rec­om­mend­ed by my friends. Time is already run­ning so short that I think my life is not long enough to ade­quate­ly con­sume these while doing jus­tice to each, and I am get­ting bored with noth­ing to do?! That’s the guilt. But yes, I still do, and noth­ing alters that fun­da­men­tal truth.

All bore­dom is a prob­lem of the engage­ment of atten­tion. Tech­no­log­i­cal advances have expo­nen­tial­ly increased the “price”, or thresh­old, of our atten­tion. Ear­li­er, it was rel­a­tive­ly easy for a phone call to get one’s full and undi­vid­ed atten­tion, because it was com­pet­ing with few oth­er dis­trac­tions. Today, it is per­ceived as a nui­sance because our atten­tion is already devot­ed to oth­er things at the time.

True bore­dom is when we do not wish to pay atten­tion to any­thing or any­body.

On the one hand, bore­dom is a sig­nal that noth­ing excites you any­more, there is noth­ing you look for­ward to. On the oth­er hand, bore­dom may sig­nal that you want to break away from rou­tine and seek new expe­ri­ences and adven­tures. Bore­dom — lack of enthu­si­asm — is some­times mis­per­ceived.

Some folks get bored quick­ly if they’ve not done any­thing inter­est­ing or new for some time, while oth­er folks get bored because there just isn’t any­thing inter­est­ing left for them to do. The dif­fer­en­tia­tor lies in whether there is a desire to do any­thing. The for­mer is a tem­po­rary state of rest­less­ness, the lat­ter is when there is no desire what­so­ev­er to do any­thing. The for­mer is just rest­less­ness, the lat­ter is true bore­dom.

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  • Mahen­dra Pal­sule,

    I also thought that if i had lived in the past, i may have died of bore­dom with­out todays tech­nol­o­gy. But as you point­ed out it doesn’t work that way.

    Some­times i get bored and i try to change the rou­tine and rhythm of my life. I nev­er get bored by read­ing.

    • Hi Anand,

      Yes, chang­ing rou­tine often helps me too. But some­times even that requires an extra push that some­times eludes me 🙂