Posted by: Jamie Hahn | September 27, 2010

Got Boredom?

I wanted to write a post about our society’s seemingly insatiable need for entertainment. We all know that opportunities for entertainment are around every corner. We don’t have to look much further than our own pocket or purse these days. The now ubiquitous smartphone has put the internet within our grasp 24-7. Beyond that, there’s always TV, movies, plays, sports, and an infinite number of ways to be entertained.

None of that seemed terribly interesting or new, until I started thinking about things from another angle. What is driving us to seek entertainment on such a grand (or frightening) scale? It may be good, old-fashioned boredom.  

OK, that’s not too interesting either. In fact, it’s sort of boring. *Yawn* But then I remembered an article I read about boredom. It’s 8 years old, which is postively ancient using today’s perspective on age, yet this topic still resonates today — maybe even more.  It was written by Roy Rivenburg, and it provides an interesting analysis of the origins of boredom, the behaviors it creates, and the consequences of allowing it to run rampant through our lives and society.

I wanted to do a similar analysis of boredom in this post, but after I re-read this article, it seemed like a waste of energy. Instead, I encourage you to read Roy’s article, “Is Boredom Bad?” It’s well worth your time.

Some high points from Rivenburg’s article (in case you can’t tear yourself away from the latest episode of Mad Men or your twitter stream or that internet news site or or or…)

1) There wasn’t even a word for boredom in the English language prior to 1750. As Rivenburg says, “Boredom is very much a modern ailment.”

2) Richard Winter says (ironically), “In an age when we have more entertainment available to us than ever before, there seems to be an epidemic of boredom.” He also postulates that being saturated with media and entertainment is causing us to lose our sense of wonder. *

3) In addition to over-saturation, we’re experiencing an increase in leisure time. “For most of history, daily survival took so much effort that people didn’t have the luxury of being bored,” says Century City psychologist and attorney Rex Julian Beaber.

4) The quick fix for boredom is novelty. Ultimately, this throws us into a viscious cycle of boredom followed by the need for novelty followed by more boredom and an even greater need for novelty.

5) In fact, the true cure for boredom may actually be more boredom. As the late poet Joseph Brodsky said, “When hit by boredom, let yourself be crushed by it; submerge, hit bottom. The sooner you hit bottom, the faster you surface.”

6) ” The trick [to moving past monotony] is learning to experience familiar things in new ways,” says anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson, a visiting professor at Harvard and the daughter of anthropologist Margaret Mead.

7) Rituals and tasks repeated in a ritualistic way can help us move past boredom to something deeper. Abbot Francis Benedict, a Catholic monk at St. Andrew’s Abbey near Palmdale, says: “When you do the same tasks over and over, you can go beneath the surface, beyond the task itself, to the landscape of the soul.”

My two cents…entertainment isn’t bad in and of itself. In fact, much of the entertainment industry showcases our very human need to create and share. I do, however, think we could all benefit from finding time to just be silent — truly silent and still. It’s during this time that our minds will listen, open, and speak, instead of consuming wildly. It’s in those moments that we’re truly alive.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic — if you’re bored enough to share them. 🙂

______________________________

Image Courtesy of Graur Codrin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Is Boredom Bad?” Article by Roy Rivenburg, February 22, 2003

*Reference: “Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment” (InterVarsity Press).

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Responses

  1. Great post, Jamie. Such an interesting perspective. I’ve long believed that “downtime” is critical to fostering creative thinking and innovation.

    • Thanks, Jessica. It’s hard to find that downtime these days. Seems like as things in society speed up, so do our expectations about how much we have to get done in order to be deemed “productive.” I’ve been trying to re-define productivity for myself to include quiet time to just sit with silence. It’s amazing what kinds of ideas and thoughts come to me during that time. It is definitely essential to my creative process.

  2. A great post, indeed! Thank you for writing it. It made me think about something else, which I believe is related to our endless and obsessive need of entertainement today. The more we’re surrounded by “social networks” the more we’re isolating. Real friends in real life are replaced by surrogate ones online; we rarely go to the theater, we better watch movies online; we’re even doing our shopping online, sometimes because is cheaper, but often just to avoid going out and meet people. The list can go on. And, to go back on today’s topic, isn’t boredom brought to us precisely by the overhelming virtuality? The virtual world gives us immediate satisfactions but they don’t last. Therefore we simply get bored quicker.

    • I completely agree. It’s so easy to replace real-life interactions with virtual ones. I am guilty of that on many occasions. Sometimes I have to force myself to get outside in nature to remember what’s important in life! Thanks for your comment!


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