I’m rarely bored. Really.
I may get antsy, I may want for something productive to do, I may feel apathetic about certain tedious tasks, but boredom doesn’t come easily to me, nor does it last long. Through trial and error (and as a result of an adolescence deprived of television), I’ve learned to flip on the daydreaming mode. Surely there’s no greater (and rarer) pleasure than allowing a mind to wander aimlessly — and that tends to happen only when boring settles in.
I’m thinking about boredom and that general state of ennui because the scorching months of summer seem prime period for this malady. It’s also more virulent among children suddenly set free from the strictures of school. What parent doesn’t recognize, with a flinch, the rallying cry so emblematic of the season, "I’m bored"?
Our culture abhors boredom. It looks askance at unstructured time. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop and all that. If an adult is bored, it must be because she isn’t working enough or cultivating the people and the causes she should. And if a child confesses to this dullest of dull states, we sign them up for soccer or order them to pick up their bedrooms.
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No, wait, that’s not right. Most likely we’ll turn to some handy-dandy electronic device to alleviate that unsettling sense of time extending endlessly before us. Forget crayons, my mother’s go-to boredom reliever of half a century ago. Now it’s some interactive game device that squelches curiosity and saves us from ourselves. A blinking screen is a sure antidote to curiosity and discovery.
Perfect example: the road trip. One of the most stunning catastrophes that can befall a family on a long drive — aside from a heaven-forbid accident, of course — is a dead iPad. Or a smartphone that goes kaput. Or a van DVD that breaks down.
I know about such things. Last year on a family trip up the spine of Florida I realized that we had forgotten how to watch the scenery go by. We hadn’t taught our kids to feel the nothingness of nothing. To be fascinated by a sudden outcrop of strange trees. Or spotted cows. Or small towns with quaint church steeples. Instead we’ve accustomed them to easily available round-the-clock stimulation that requires no effort on their part — or ours.
Few of us, whether we’re children or adults, are used to the emptiness that is a precursor to boredom. Feeling at loose ends makes us…well, too loose, too untethered, even a bit nervous and frightened. Most of us have read, or at least heard, how boredom leads to some unsavory behavior. Binge-eating, for one. Dangerous thrill-seeking, for another. And among teenagers, studies have shown they’re more likely to take up smoking, drinking and illegal drugs when not kept busy.
Bad boredom. Bad, bad, bad.
But I propose we think of boredom in another light: as the catalyst to creativity, as the pathway to invention, as proof that slowing time and delaying duty is a luxury in a hyper-connected world. Seems there’s a growing movement to bring back boredom, the kind that forces us to wonder about ourselves and about the world around us, the kind that shuns outside stimulation but produces private entertainment.
So this summer, slather on the sunscreen, make sure to stay hydrated, and refuse a child’s panic call. Get bored. Allow yourself (and them) to discover the vastness of the mind and the imagination: the last unexplored frontier.