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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  • http://www.avilpage.com/ Anand Reddy Pandikunta

    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.

    • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahen­dra

      Hi Anand,

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