In Favor of Boredom

Uptown Waterloo
These past few weeks are hardly notable. Very little is happening in the day to day, and I'm largely biding my time while waiting for something to give. Most days in the windowless, green, fluorescent lit training room, filled with dissimilar people of varying backgrounds and ages, listening to a quirky half-Japanese fellow talk about Chrysler, customer care, and warranties. No cellphones, no internet. 8 hours a day, 5 consecutive days, 5 weeks.

Sounds boring, right?

That it most definitely is. But this isn't another complaint post. Instead, I'm advocating for the side of boredom. I was in waterloo earlier today, and old habits kick in quick: I was listening to the CBC. A piece on the merits of boredom happened to be playing.

First Snow, mid-descent
The British scientist was talking about how boredom is in an asset to survival. Without it, life would be overwhelmingly grand! This sound great, but imagine having the amazement of a toddler about literally everything around you, then trying to get anything done. Impossible. Being bored makes us look around for things to do, innovate, or guard against. Some might argue that boredom can also hurt us by overlooking danger, which is just the other end of the extreme.

The main point seemed to be that boredom helps us be more creative. A common theme I talk about is our experiential baseline. If we're used to skydiving and ski jumping on the daily, watching a movie may not scratch that itch quite as well. In other words: what we do regularly is what we compare experiences with. Our society of constant entertainment should be able to keep us constantly entertained, but obviously it doesn't.

It seems our threshold for boredom is at its worst, particularly with the aid of the smartphone allowing constant entertainment for even the most brief of boring spells. Waiting in line? Whip that phone out!

Might as well suit the occasion.
Believe it or not, this is a medium!
What we're losing is the ability to daydream, think creatively in any given situation, and simply knowing how to entertain ourselves. Sometimes I've been making up jokes or situations with someone and they'll tell me that I clearly have too much time on my hands. For some reason, having extra time is seen to be a bad thing, while being oh-so-busy has come to be viewed as something to strive for.

Let's look at most people's retirement goals, based on nothing more than my own personal availability heuristic: people seem to want to quit their job and do absolutely nothing. Yet the above views prevail as if business is normal and having time is just pure slothy laziness. Hey, maybe it is.

Strangely though, boredom seems to be the best time to generate new ideas and crafts. It spawns levels of creativity that may have been forgotten. For those of us who draw, how many of you had your humble beginnings by doodling during class because you'd rather do that than pay attention? The same could be said for the beginnings of any particularly artistic endeavor, though I'm not claiming this is the case for every single one.*

A few years back, during the midst of my very first blog, I experimented with a week-long "Digital Detox." It was an idea given to me by the magazine Adbusters. My rules were as follows: No garbage information (magazines included), no screens, no cellphone (except emergencies), and generally nothing digital (except clocks). Basically, no digital entertainment. This, as you might imagine, can lead to a lot of boredom.

A sign I found humorous
I was living with my parents for the summer, and that week involved a lot more music, reading, writing (long form), and exercise. I was more social, and found my mind wandering to places it normally wouldn't. One particular scene still stands out in memory: the sun was setting on my right, over the misty air in the corn field, on my left was this small marshland with a heron flying low, and humid air whipped my hair as I drove 80km/h down the country road. It was serene. It would also have been completely missed, had I been listening to the radio.

My posts from that time were prolific compared to any other time in that period of my life, and covered a wider variety of topics.** I can see why some writers decide to hermit themselves in the middle of nowhere to write on typewriters.

Given that I'm advocating for boredom, I need to point out that I'm not on-board for complete and absolute boredom. Just doses here and there. See it as a vitamin for creativity, not some form of torture. After all, people have literally murdered to relieve boredom. Like most things, I think we should have it to create a contrast between our ever-busy, ever-entertained/occupied lives so that we can remember to enjoy all the great things happening in our lives instead of simply becoming jaded by constant overstimulation.***

Yet another beautiful Sunset
After the week-long experiment, I went right back to my ever-entertained ways.

Editing Music: Hoops by The Reubens

*For some reason when you make a claim about people in general, people will often jump on you with examples of where it doesn't apply. This proves absolutely nothing and simply wastes the time of both the speaker and the audience. Generalities are not absolutes.
**If you want to read them, they can be found here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Bear in mind that I have not touched them since they were written. The ideas expressed there may not be held by the writer anymore.
***I am a total stimulation junky, which has made me come to recognize this current job as an opportunity to slow down and live in the now. If you, too, are a stimulation junky, check out Need for Cognition, which is often a reason why many people end up being night hawks, or avoid sleep.

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