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Boredom

It's quiet. The sun sets, painting the tree's shadows long on the pavement outside.

I'm lying on my sofa, doing nothing.

Sure, I could get up to turn on some music. Or do what's become a nearly natural instinct for people my age: reach for the phone.

But my phone is somewhere I can't remember where.

And frankly, I can't be asked to get up.

Instead, I look out the window as the still-empty branches sway in the wind. The only indication of time passing is the increasing darkness outside and the sound of bells from the nearby church every 15 minutes or so.

You guessed it. I'm bored.

I wonder: when was the last time I felt this way? And when do people, in general, still get bored?

So here we are, a few weeks after I first started contemplating the role of boredom in my life.

Let me be clear: I'm bored quite a bit. It might be the reason I still work in crypto. Could you imagine working at the speed of a tortoise in any other industry? Exactly.

After the Ball by Ramon Casas

But back to Boredom.

Tolstoi defined it as a "desire for desires," and in less poetic terms, the psychoanalyst Adam Philips describes it as a "state of suspended animation in which things are started and nothing begins. The mood of diffuse restlessness which contains the most absurd and paradoxical wish: the wish for a desire."

It's a close cousin of tedium, which Pesoa captured so accurately in his Book of Disquiet; even a casual reader will start feeling a sense of world-weariness after just a few lines.

"There is no reason for any of our desires to exist. Our attention is an absurdity allowed by our winged inertia" - Pesoa, Book of Disquiet

Let's be clear. Boredom isn't fun. And it's not rare for especially kids to utter similar words to those of Helena in Uncle Vanya, who despairingly states, "I'm dying of this boredom. What'll I do?"

Realistically, though, as adults, the only ones we can recall telling us they are bored are likely kids. And they get bored a lot and fast, which can drive anyone a little insane.

In his history of Boredom, Peter Toohey observes that adults "will brag that they are never bored. They are almost always lying."

And it's not all that surprising. Boredom still is seen as a sort of weak-minded disengagement from a world that demands urgent action and provides an endless stream of quick dopamine hits. Admitting you're bored equals admitting that you lack initiative or imagination.

What would the entertainment industry look like if we didn't all try to avoid boredom as much as possible? Standing still in a world of constant acceleration is just not a worthy activity, neither for the individual nor for the economy.

Historically, boredom was reserved for the nobility and monks (who had nothing to do but ora et labora, which can get boring at times). At least one monk used his boredom to leave a lasting mark. Antonio Vivaldi's four seasons continue to inspire not only hotel names but also serve as a soundtrack for countless ads, from cars to instant ramen.

Source

Modernity democratized boredom thanks to the increase in leisure time as well as the multiplication of consumables and amusement opportunities, which led to increased expectations that life should be entertaining and people interesting.

And with the rise of machines came the rise of capitalism criticism, which quickly clamped in boredom as yet another symptom of how things are getting worse.

Erik Ringmar believes that "boredom often comes about when we are constrained to pay attention. In modern, urban society, there was simply much more that human beings were expected to pay attention to," which explains how I get bored at crypto meetups. The philosophers Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard both agree that boredom is a scourge of modern life, which gave us the novel in the 19th century.

That's a ray of light, even though you might disagree if you end up reading 15-page descriptions of English seascapes while trying to suppress a yawn.

At this point, I think we need to take boredom a little more apart.

Boredom != Boredom

Not all boredom is built equally.

There is the one I experienced at the beginning, which provided a break and gave me space to look inside and eventually inspired this.

“i closed my eyes

to look inward

and found a universe

waiting to be explored”

― yung pueblo, Inward

It's close to what Heidegger terms mundane boredom. Part of the human condition and experience, for example, when waiting for a train (without a phone to kill time).

Then there is existential boredom which borders depression as it's being bored with life itself, feeling alienated, and drowning in, what bullshit job thesis creator David Groeber would call "soul-choking misery."

The latter might require some professional help.

But the first, that's the type of boredom you might want to make more space for.

Why make room for being bored?

In short, because it's a rebellious act against the system that wants us to hustle more.

Jokes aside.

It's a break for you, and it might just offer you the space to daydream, which is a proven way to think more innovatively and generate new ideas.

A 2013 study showed that just a little boredom can increase one's ability to solve problems well. And if it wasn't for a boring four-hour train ride, J.K. Rowling might never have written Harry Potter.

Mindful boredom offers the opportunity to unwind from the hyperconnected world and gives us space to reflect if we are even on the right path.

Looking at boredom from an evolutionary standpoint, scientists interpret it as a force driving new trial-error behavior (+ increased risk-taking, which needs to be treated with care) and as a motivator.

Both are pretty valid causes.

Yet, the omnipresence of smartphones has made us intolerant of boredom—so much so that we'd rather give ourselves electric shocks than sit in a room alone with our thoughts.

Maybe boredom isn't just a state to escape as fast as possible. What if, by denying ourselves this time to stand still, we're robbing ourselves of the little moments of eternity?

Despite its bad rep, boredom can initiate a search that enables lingering. It allows us to experience the presence as if it were timeless. And it might just inspire you to do great things. It gives us space for introspection, and already Aristotle knew that the distracted life wasn't worth it (ok, he did not say that; he said the unexamined life, but I think they are similar)

Next time you're bored, maybe just embrace it for a little. See where it goes.

“All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

― Blaise Pascal


Thanks for reading. 💚

Let me know what findings you have the next time you're bored.

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#boredom#food for thought#philosophy
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