What is Boredom? Why would anyone other than someone who is bored be interested about the topic? Why write about it unless your creating solutions to a problem? Could boredom ever be healthy?
Boredom is a feeling first and foremost. It lies at the root of many illnesses, so many in fact, that the modern tourist economy can be traced to the rise of consumer based economic theory. Entire forests have been felled to produce the volumes of literature devoted to dispelling this fearsome specter that brings chaos in it’s wake. The Archbishop of Wales opined:
“We are a deeply, dangerously bored society. And we’re reluctant to look for the root of that. Why do we want to escape from the glories and difficulties of everyday life? Why do we want to escape into gambling or drugs or any other kind of fantasy? Why have we created a culture which seems more in love with fantasy than reality? Whether that’s gambling or drugs or, for that matter, the national lottery, we should be asking “What’s happened to us? Why are we so bored?”
In a comment about the presumed differences between urbanites and suburbanites, Reinhard Kuhn states ” She is tired of the magazine that she is reading or the television show that she is watching and mixes another cocktail for herself. Or perhaps she telephones an equally bored friend and they talk for hours about nothing, or perhaps she drifts into an affair that means as little to her as the television show or magazine article.”
These descriptions aren’t a flattering picture of modern societies and womanhood are they? Is it an excuse for anti-feminism or for economic criticism, religious criticism or is it indicative of an adjective, a description that in its discursive slant, illustrates the problem that hides in plain sight?
Richard Winter broaches the subject of boredom by listing adjectives to describe it.
Synonyms for Bored and Boredom are
To bore someone is to weary them by “being dull, uninteresting or monotonous” and as Winter notes, is also mildly aggressive. To even argue that by enforcing boredom, we inflict pain on our spouse, our friends or loved ones, would require that we understand and recognize the emotion within ourselves.
Academics have only confused and conflated the problem of identifying emotions such as boredom with quotes such as this one: “a metaphor for the postmodern condition” – when writing about the emergence of the word into the cultural lexicon of the 1750’s!
Andy Warhol has summed up the modern view of boredom in his film Sleep where an audience (presumably pays) to watch a man sleep for 8 solid hours! Rest assured, the clip below is only a minute and a half long, and at that length, may be longer than some sexual encounters, which brings up the various maladies and health disorders associated with boredom.
Addictions, family dysfunction, abuses of communication between those who love one another, all these are yet more symptoms of undiagnosed boredom that we attempt to treat with medication or with wellness paradigms that fail to educate about the emotional states common to the human condition. We are taught to climb rock walls to learn new ways to get high, to try dating and sex and even unprotected risky sex before we are ready, and of course, there are always drugs and other impulse control disorders that are commonly associated with boredom as a trigger factor or as a symptom.
We typically associate boredom with under stimulation and monotony. This is the wellness logic behind advertisements promoting exercise and yoga, rock climbing and the outdoors. Romanticism recycled as a cure for the evils and perils of the modern worlds ills. We see this clearly mass marketed in TV shows like Preppers and academics routinely lampoon such “cultural backwardness” as “conspiracy culture” and on and on. As cited above, the term postmodern or one of its variations is trotted out and used to criticize everything and sundry that represents a rejection of “progress.”
But is it? All this, all these ideas are invalidated to avoid discussing an emotion: boredom.
In some spas flotation tanks or “sensory deprivation ” tanks are utilized to promote altered states of consciousness. How do they achieve this? The effect is achieved thru under stimulation. Hallucinations, impaired thought processes, restlessness and mood swings occur if too much time is spent in the tank. For this reason, most spas don’t have the staff to monitor guests mental health and elect not to offer the service. The point however about the side effects of boredom are profound.
Repetition also takes a lot of heat when the subject of boredom arises. Not only does it raise psychological questions that have fueled near culture wars about psychoanalysis, over medication and healthcare, it has been used as a reason to challenge universities that offer wellness programs, as evidence for cultural decline and economic malaise due to globalization.
Boredom. Such a fearsome beast. It’s almost enough to drive people to suicide and one might be pardoned for wondering if it indeed does. What of a once happily married couple who no longer delights in one another’s company? One begins drinking, the other has an affair. Or perhaps it’s drugs or sex or both. Who is to blame? Would suggesting both individuals lack emotional maturity encourage them to slow down and work on self development help or harm?
What about the common internet troll? What about the chat rooms that proliferate online? I’ve always and still do compare them to buy, sell and trade magazines, or the Sunday shoppers where the occasional rant disguised as a public announcement are often published. Online, it’s easier to recognize a real gripe from some psychological grandstand. Chances are, boredom prompted their rendition of “Teen Spirit” in a “grown-up” venue.
Any parent can tell us about the value of repetition as well. Small children love to hear bedtime stories and never seem to get tired of them, the same ones in their early years. The same toys and blankets, the same voices and smells and to their parents delight, they love to see the same faces day after day. Unlike soured romances and faithless lovers, children and animals know who butters their bread.
Assembly workers are the poster children for the physical ills of repetition. When we’re young and when we allow ourselves to learn something new, we often find repetition has value. We learn 2+2 equals 4, we learn to walk, we learn to listen and to talk. When we get older, some of us learn to think! Athletes put up with a great deal of bodily repetition and show off the results.
Politics is another example. J.M. Barbalet is a sociologist who noted that boredom is also relieved by conflict. Those who have experienced the luxury of distancing themselves from the national tragedy of September 11th, 2001may or may not have noticed that at the time, that a push for “evidence based medicine” had been percolating since the mid 90’s. What may not be as obvious were the effects upon related but distinct discourses and disciplines. Take psychology for example. Freud and Jung were both beginning to be subjected to the processes of not only peer review but presumably, “scientific rigor.” Academia was the excuse as it so often is for those who recognize and can quote the names of modern intellectual gladiators and their forebears. Economics is yet another arena. Naomi Wolf took up this theme rightly or wrongly in her book The Shock Doctrine. And we all have borne witness to what has occurred in American political venues and health care since that time. Meanwhile, criticism of “the French Nietzsche” was advanced and the critics opined it was time to think with “Nietzsche against Nietzsche” as early as 1991 in France. An English language publication did not emerge until 1994. Some of us earn our sheepskins and outlive either or both our competitors and our friends and some of us die young. Regardless of what is said about this sordid scene and how everyone was oblivious, it requires a collective variety of denials to say so; Osama did notice. And he wasn’t alone. Those who understand and know the upshot of what this implies should take a second look at history.
Boredom? Say it ain’t so?