Boredom in the modern age has become a constant presence in many people’s lives, and it is something that people unceasingly seek to eradicate with any number of sources of entertainment. Television, movies, video games, books, and music are all common aids to combat boredom, but sometimes it gets taken to extremes and people engage in dangerous activities to avoid the dull unpleasantness of long stretches of being bored. This attitude that boredom must be avoided at all costs is a very destructive one, which can lead to personal injury or death and stretch out to putting other people in danger.
The Doctor Who TV story entitled “Enlightenment” features a race of immortal beings known as Eternals who are engaged in a race through the solar system using modified human sailing vessels from different periods of history. The ships have human crews, removed from their own times and taken into space for the entertainment of the Eternals. It is revealed that the Eternals have lived for so long that they can no longer truly think for themselves and that they rely on humans and other “Ephemerals” to give them new ideas and provide entertainment. The prize for winning the race is Enlightenment, which is described as being the wisdom to know everything. The Eternals are interested in Enlightenment because they are bored, and granted with the power to know everything will provide them endless opportunities for entertainment. One Eternal, Captain Wrack, specifically states that she is interested in Enlightenment because of how it will let her destroy things and people. The Eternals, while obviously an extreme example, embody the philosophy of eliminating boredom at all costs. They abduct people from their own times and homes and exploit them for their own entertainment. The humans aboard the ships are nothing more than expendable slaves being used to the end of winning a race. The Eternals have no concern for the humans’ well-being, and if one of them dies, the Eternals write it off as “just another Ephemeral.” Not only are they being harmful in abducting and killing people for the sake of a race, but their end goal of being granted Enlightenment is inherently harmful too, as they will inevitably use that power for destruction, whether because they find it fun or because it is a last ditch effort to stave off boredom. While humans do not (and quite frankly cannot) go to this absurd of an extreme to keep from being bored, we do crave a constant flow of entertainment and find a break in that to be irritating at the least.
Another Doctor Who story that addresses this philosophy on boredom is an audio drama called “Phobos.” Humans have started using Mars’ moon, Phobos, as a sort of natural extreme sports park. One attraction in particular is the supposedly bottomless pit that people bungee jump into. One character explains that he is using a random length of bungee cord because the thrill of jumping into the pit involves the very real fear of legitimately not knowing if you are going to die or not. The other activities on Phobos are equally as insanely dangerous and potentially lethal. These people are apparently so bored with their lives that they are more than willing risk a very gruesome death just for some thrills. In fact, they are legitimately excited about that possibility, which is incredibly troubling. It is worth noting that the main antagonist in this story is an ancient being who feeds on fear. Pure, genuine fear is poisonous to it, so it feeds instead on the thrilling fear that people experience at the Lunar Park on Phobos. This means that people are literally inducing fear in themselves to alleviate boredom. This happens in real life too, though again to less of an extreme. Haunted houses, thrill rides, horror movies, and extreme sports are all activities that by all rights can be legitimately terrifying, and yet people engage these things because the stimulation afforded by being afraid is more palatable to the average person than being bored is.
A study from 2002 at Bar-Ilan University in Israel analyzed risky behavior associated with driving in relation to sensation seeking. The study involved a group of seven-year-olds, a group of thirteen-year-olds, and a group of twenty-two-year-olds, both male and female. All were judged based on a couple different scales, one of which was boredom susceptibility, and the other being thrill and adventure seeking. Boredom susceptibility peaked in the thirteen-year-olds, while thrill and adventure seeking rose with age. One of the tests done involved showing the subjects a film of cars merging in a busy street, and then asking them to identify whether or not a warning signal sound (a car screeching to a halt behind them) was present. Age and gender did not appear to have any impact on the results, with the exception of thirteen-year-old boys, the subgroup with the highest boredom susceptibility, for whom giving the wrong response was directly correlated to boredom susceptibility. Another test had the experimenter position the subject on one side of a busy street in a suburb of Tel Aviv and had the subject judge whether or not it would be safe to cross at various points in time. There was no clear-cut relationship to the boredom susceptibility of the subjects, but teenage boys (who had the highest boredom susceptibility on average) seemed more willing to take risk than younger boys or teenage girls. The males took more risks with age while the females became more cautious. The study points out that there were some flaws in some of the personality testing, and that aspects of it require some more empirical analysis, but on the whole reliability seems to be decent. This study suggests, tangentially at least, that the more susceptible to boredom a person is, the more likely they are to take risks on the road. In some respect then we can assume somewhat that boredom is one of the causes of reckless behavior involving cars.
This picture is the third Google Image search result for “bored.” While the picture is intended to be a humorous reference (tasteless as that humor may be) to how melodramatic Sherlock Holmes gets about being bored in the BBC’s crime drama Sherlock, it is interesting to note that the artist makes boredom out to be a viable rationale for hanging oneself. Modern life has gotten to a point where it essentially revolves around not being bored. We spend an inordinate amount of time and money trying to avoid boredom. Amusement parks, smart phones, portable music devices, e-readers, in-flight movies, video games (especially handheld gaming devices), movie theaters, and many more fixtures of modern life are directly responsible for constantly keeping boredom at bay. We have such a fixation on not being bored, that when things do start to get a bit dull it feels like the end of the world. And since our lives are so overwhelmingly full of stimuli vying for our attention, those stimuli then become boring. People grow tired of being constantly bombarded with information. It is unsurprising that in an extremely fast-paced society like ours, chronic boredom can result in a lot of suicidal thoughts. A recent trend related to boredom which relates to accidental suicides is teenagers who choke themselves to get high, but end up accidentally strangling themselves to death. These kids are literally killing themselves for a momentary feeling of euphoria, which can ultimately only be the result of being extremely bored. People react very strongly to boredom, and unfortunately that can sometimes result in taking one’s own life.
Boredom also seems to be a motivator for murder. In fact, murder being attributed to boredom is more common than suicide is. Some psychologists and other professionals take issue with the confession of boredom being a motive, because that means there is something inherently exciting or fun about killing to these people, which could point to deeper psychological problems. While that may very well be the case, the fact of the matter is that boredom is not an uncommon motivation for murderers to cite, so there must be something to it. This may very well be tied to the concept of fear being used to alleviate boredom. Taking another life would be a high-adrenaline situation, and the stress of that act would certainly get rid of any boredom a person might have been feeling. If someone was extremely chronically bored and had a lack of empathy toward others, then it does not seem too terribly outlandish that they would turn to murder for fun. The psychologists are almost certainly right about the killers who claim boredom as their motive having some sort of mental disorder, but that does not necessarily mean that boredom was not their motive as some would suggest. It simply means that they handle boredom differently from how able-minded people do.
Boredom in the modern age appears to be the cause of a lot of harmful behaviors, be they in fiction or in reality. Murder, suicide (both intentional and accidental), reckless driving habits, and other various risky behaviors all manifest as a result of being bored in some capacity. Focusing on eliminating boredom as our culture does, we as a society are trying to prevent ourselves from getting so bored that we have to resort to being dangers to ourselves and to others, and yet that is exactly what this system we have in place causes. Relief from boredom is a never-ending cycle of dangerous and destructive behaviors just for a laugh, which is probably a terrifying thought for anyone who bores easily.