More on boredom

Matthew Stickney wrote to discuss my “war on boredom” post, in which I lament the fact that our always-connected society prevents people from having significant amounts of down time. He made some good points, including this:

“I was delighted to read your recent post on winning the War on Boredom. I thought it was curious that you used the word ‘boredom’, rather than ‘downtime’ or ‘leisure’ (or even one of the more metaphorical terms making the rounds like ‘whitespace’). Merriam-Webster defines boredom as ‘weary or restless through lack of interest;’ is that what you meant, or did you just mean not having any particular activity scheduled?”

It’s a good question, but I meant boredom, as I’ve found it can foster creative thinking. When I was young, both of my parents worked, and I spent a few hours home alone after school every day. If I weren’t so mind-crushingly bored in that time, I wouldn’t have invented the elaborate games, projects, etc. that eventually entertained me until they arrived. What that have happened if I had an iPhone full of games? Maybe. But probably not.

Matt goes on:

“As I was reading your post, the following paraphrase from Ray Bradbury‘s [1. Tip: One way to get me to post your email is to reference Ray Bradbury.] “Farenheit 451” struck me as relevant:

In order to make progress as a society, we need three things:

  1. Access to the ideas in books (not necessarily the books themselves)
  2. The leisure to reflect on those ideas
  3. The right to change our attitudes and actions based on the interaction of 1) and 2)

Clearly we’re not having any trouble with the first item, unless you count not being able to find the worthwhile stuff in all the noise. The third item seems to be doing all right too, but from the sounds of your post (and several others), we’re having some trouble with the second. It’s especially interesting to me that our lack of leisure isn’t (completely) the fault of arduous working hours in an industrial mill, but our basic inability to put down a smartphone. If Mr. Bradbury is right, and the progress of society is slowly grinding to a halt, it’s our own darn fault.”

I couldn’t put it better, Matt, so I won’t. That’s exactly what I was after.

Our “never bored” culture: iPad holders, speakers on shopping carts

A London grocery chain has added iPad holders and speakers to the handles of its shopping carts. Now customers can stare at the Web, TV shows, movies or photos of Aunt Rita while shopping.

This is another symptom of the “never bored” culture that I dislike so much. It turns out that shopping for groceries isn’t stimulating enough. Instead, one must enhance the experience YouTube. Don’t tell me “it’s for shopping apps,” because the majority of those who use it will be checking email, playing on Twitter, etc.

Here’s my favorite bit from the article:

“[The carts’] front bumpers are fitted with a sensor which lets off a warning beep if an engrossed shopper gets too close to another customer…”

At least they recognize that customers will ram into each other. Just wait until the first time a kid’s fingers get pinched or broken. Or until Jr. is ejected all together.

Innovation and progress occurs during down time, when our minds process experiences and solve problems. How — and more importantly, when — can the constantly-entertained mind manage either?