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.