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April 17, 2006


Nice brief by Mike Crowley in defense of boredom. Unlike him, I've no Blackberry chirping in my pocket to whip out (to hear Crowley tell it, the Blackberry is virtually rendering boredom extinct, though I don't know what good it does you if you haven't just received e-mail), but I've erected my own line of largely impenetrable defenses against the horrors of an idle moment. I don't, for instance, walk places anymore. Walking is cell phone time, and it keeps me in touch with the family. And nor do I stare at the TV -- too boring, particularly during commercials. I stare at the TV while surfing the net on my computer, reloading this page for more comments and my RSS feed for new posts and my news pages for fresh information.

Crowley, for one, never really explains why we should return to boredom. He lightly denigrates our hyperkinetic habits that stave it off, and I'll agree with that. But boredom doesn't look better by comparison, the choice seems to be mediocrity or manic multitasking. You a dullard or a stereotype? That's why folks like Crowley, and for that matter myself, should align ourselves with the "The Idler" movement, the Lakoffian attempt to reframe crushing boredom as pleasant idleness, and do for it what the slow-cooking movement did for the oven. Take Tom Hodgkinson's How To Be Idle, which addresses most of the moments in life (naps, lunches, fishing, afternoons, etc) where you'd be most likely to whip out the Blackberry and explains why idleness is both the less monotonous and more courageous choice in each of them. Take his chapter on going out (or, rather, on "staying in"), the scourge of all who want to be idle but don't want to be lame:

One goes to a trendy bar and feels au courant for a few minutes, until one learns that in the depths of the trendy bar is a VIP room; perhaps that is where the real action is, you think. Get into one of these VIP rooms and you'll find that the really cool people have gone up to a private hotel room. Get to the private hotel room and you find that you are talking to the hanger-on rather than the star. Talk to the star, and discover they are boring. It's all really too much psychic effort. So the declaration that you are going to "stay in" is a victory for the soul, I believe. It means that, for a night at least, you have put aside the world and its seductions. You have said to yourself, "I don't care." You are going to create your own little paradise of duvets, televisions, and pizzas, your own castle of indolence.

In other news, I have the day off (happy Patriot's Day!), and aside from blogging, I plan to be idle, and maybe even bored.

April 17, 2006 | Permalink


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I learned the lesson from Joseph Heller. True boredom must be uncomfortable to slow the perception of time passed. Since life-lived can only really be time-perceived, a properly managed boredom is life-extending.
Any trance or relaxation states are forbidden, one must be aware of every second as if under a dripping water torture. An immortality of painful tedium.

Trust me, my son, one day you too will be old and ask yourself:"Where did all that time go?" Well, you simply weren't paying attention. Watch that clock properly, and the second hand can be stopped.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Apr 17, 2006 12:52:54 PM

According to this book, middle class kids are often bored while working class and poor kids are seldom bored. Middle class kid's lives are structured with a lot of classes and organized sports and look to be amused by their parents in the interstitial times.

Working class and poor kids have much greater autonomy over their afterscool and weekend time. They tend to do what they want when they want. They also tend to do a lot of unstructured play with siblings, cousins and neighborhood kids. They also are not typically prevented from watching as much TV as they feel like.

Posted by: joe o | Apr 17, 2006 1:06:31 PM

i see this as a kind of staircase.
the first step up is idleness,
the second step is boredom,
the third step is the isle of sirens,
the third step is solitude,
the fifth step is traversing the loneliness,
the sixth step is peaceful aloneness.
.....it is a very hard ascension...
particularly in a culture of kinetic/frenetic speed,
hollow materialism, shallow distractions,all forms of spiritual anaesthesia,disintegrated families, soul-wounding, heart-stabbing noise, fluidity and cultural confusions.
...sunrise at the grand canyon can help in an emergency.
i believe we can only stay human with lowe, beauty and nature in our lives.

Posted by: jacqueline | Apr 17, 2006 1:07:31 PM

To me, boredom is a character flaw. Anyone who can't be idle without getting bored has serious, serious problems.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Apr 17, 2006 1:08:34 PM

When there is time for boredom, but as a preventative before it hits, there is always 'the nap'.

Part of culture teaches us that being alone is boring or unsatisfying. It isn't true!

Decades ago a guy wrote a bestselling book called "The Lonely Crowd". The title says it all.

What ever happened to real conversation about real things that actually matter? Was it outsourced?

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Apr 17, 2006 1:18:58 PM

Tom, I'm not unsympathetic to that, but I think it has a lot to do with environment. Two examples from personal experience:

1) I'm an only child, so I grew up having to "make my own fun" a lot of the time. I'm a lot better at keeping myself entertained for long periods of time than a lot of my friends who grew up with more syblings (or, to be fair, were more popular growing up).


2) I grew up in Queens and spent a good deal of my evenings/weekends/afternoons hanging around Manhattan, particularly bustling parts like Times Square, 34th street, SoHo, etc. To this day, I'm far *more* likely to be bored when visiting a rural/small town than my friends who grew up in one.

So my mind can sustain itself better than most, but it just needs a lot of ambient activity to do so. I take Crowley's point about the moral issue here, but I think this issue ought to spend more time in psych journals and less in op-eds.

Posted by: Daniel A. Munz | Apr 17, 2006 1:24:58 PM

In my case, the Blackberry ends boredom in two ways. First, the newer ones have fairly powerful browsers so you can load most web pages, and even post to your blog. It is hard to code format and links -- you have to type out the HTML yourself -- but if you have a quick thought, short observation, or see something entertaining that can't wait, there you go. Of course, you can also neurotically check your Site Meter's referrals page to see who is linked to your blog, which I confess I have also been known to do.

Second, do not discount the email thing. If most of your friends are lawyers and bankers and corporate tools and such (as mine are), they are virtually all similarly available to swap lies at the dropping of a hat.

Posted by: TigerHawk | Apr 18, 2006 6:35:21 AM

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