Boredom is a problem that many people consider to plague Western Civilization today. A pandemic that has spread from coast to coast, Boredom is believed to have wreaked havoc on the productiveness of the general population, decimating motivation and leaving society helpless in the face of mass apathy. But is it not true that Boredom is nothing but an artificial creation formed by modern societies’ insatiable need for stimulation? And if it is true that Boredom has been brought on by our own desires, is it really the problem so many believe it to be?
Are We Special?
As a species as a whole, humans have become increasingly obsessed with the notions of instant gratification and near unending stimulation. Today, nothing remains satisfactory for long, everything can be done better; everything has to be done better. There is no end to modern society’s appetite for improvement, nor is there a limit on how strong our intolerance of a perceived relative lack of activity can become. An inability to maintain some semblance of significance in our lives is a repulsive thought to the vast majority of people. Everyone has innate sense of worth, a sense that we ourselves matter in the world. Because of this, we are constantly looking to others to acknowledge us, to reaffirm the fact that we matter. That is why boredom to some is so terribly unbearable. Boredom can be perceived as lack of importance. For if we mattered, we would never be bored correct? Would there not always be something for us to do? Or more importantly, someone important to us to do those things with? To be truly bored is to be unimportant, to not matter to others to where they do not acknowledge you. This is why we as a society battle so fiercely against this feeling. No one wants to feel inadequate. We all want to be special. It is this desire that makes boredom both one of the worst aspects of society, but at the same time possibly one of the best.
The modern age has thrived off people’s complete and utter intolerance of boredom. One such example of this is the entertainment culture of the Western world. Whether it be movies, television, video games, music, or even books, entertainment has become one of the largest and most profitable industries in the world. Take for example this article about the company Vitaminwater and how they are capitalizing on contemporary society’s tendency to grow bored. http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887323324904579041202579456002
Entertainment culture feeds on the escapist tendencies that we all possess. In times of boredom, no one wants to sit complacently and simmer in their perceived lack of importance. So we look to other sources of entertainment to stimulate us. Books, film, and all other forms of media have the innate ability, if crafted carefully enough, to carry us to into new worlds full of fantastical scenarios and endless possibilities. Due to the ever increasing rates of boredom in modern society, the Entertainment industry has boomed exponentially. To be able to forgot about your problems or current lack of activity and instead place yourself in the life of someone more interesting than yourself is an experience many enjoy.
It is not just simply forms of entertainment that boredom has helped contribute to society though. Boredom has also helped the modern age thrive because of the insatiable hunger for progress it has created. The modern era of technology, for example, has been releasing new advancements in all forms of technology at an unprecedented rate. Year after year there are new cars, new computers, and new phones to buy. This is because people are becoming increasingly more and more dissatisfied with technology at an even faster pace. We are used to progress occurring at such a ridiculous rate that if it were to slow down by even a second, many would break into a mad frenzy of boredom over whatever form of “outdated” technology they possessed. Even progress itself must see progress. New advancements must come to fruition even faster than the past advancements, lest we fall victim to boredom. It is our dissatisfaction with things as they currently stand that has led to the furthering of modern technology and advancement of human society.
Not only has boredom led progress to occur at a faster rate, but the technology that progress has led to have become faster themselves. Take for example advancements in communication. Only 200 years ago, the fastest any two people could communicate over a large distance were messages delivered by horseback. Since then, forms of communication have been furthered at an alarming rate. From telegraphs to phones, to now the internet itself, communication has advanced to a point unimaginable by our fore fathers, and the biggest advancements have all come within the last 30 odd years or so. All of this, simply because people grew bored and frustrated with the amount of time it took to communicate with someone they were not face to face with. Even today, when a text message or email does not send right away, we quickly become frustrated with the 2 minutes or so wasted, while only a century ago for a message to be sent across the country in 2 minutes would be preposterous.
While boredom has had positive effects on society, that is not to say that it has not come with its own set of issues. There have been cases where, due to an innate tendency to grow bored easily, people have turned to addictive habits to provide them with the kind of stimuli they desire. Take this study done correlating Boredom Proneness and pathological gambling. (http://www.amsciepub.com/doi/pdf/10.2466/pr0.1922.214.171.124)
In the study, researchers had 48 subjects who were classified as pathological gamblers take a set of 4 tests: the Beck Depression Inventory, the Sensation Seeking Scale, the Boredom Proneness Scale, and the Boredom Susceptibility subscale. They compared their results to those of 40 other subjects who were not pathological gamblers nor did they suffer from any other addictive problems. The results that came from this experiment were highly intriguing. While gamblers did score significantly higher on the Beck Depression Inventory and the Boredom Proneness Scale compared to the control group of 40 people, the scores of the Sensation Seeking Scale and the Boredom susceptibility subscale between the two groups were quite close. While it makes sense that both depression and boredom proneness both attribute to pathological gambling, for there to be a clear distinction between those two and sensation seeking and boredom susceptibility tendencies is odd. According to the study, Boredom Susceptibility is a person’s propensity to search out stimuli because of his environment, which makes sense that the Sensation Seeking and Susceptibility tendencies were correlated. Boredom Proneness on the other hand, is defined as “an individual’s intolerance of aversive underaroused states of boredom and/or depression.” So it stands to reason that based on the results of the study, that while pathological gamblers are not actively seeking out stimuli any more so than an unafflicted individual, there complete intolerance to boredom and its relationship to their depression have led them towards self destructive habits such as pathological gambling.
So Smart You’re Bored
Imagine a young man in his junior year of college. By many he is considered to be highly intelligent. He is knowledgeable in a wide variety of topics and can hold his own in a discussion about any of them. He was a model student all through high school and the first two years of college, but now he finds himself struggling. It is not that the material itself has become too difficult for him to manage, it is just that he can no longer bring himself to do the work. It has become too boring. The tedium of the college grind has worn him down, to the point where he feels apathetic about it all. He no longer feels stimulated by what he is learning, it doesn’t excite him. Thus, he cannot bring himself to care anymore.
That scenario, as strange as it may seem to some, is an example of boredom and its relationship to intelligence. It has been theorized that boredom itself is a byproduct of intelligence. Humans and other animals with higher functioning brains, such as monkeys, seem to be the only creatures to show signs of boredom after a period of time without any mental stimulation. Because our brains are capable of processing such large amounts of information so quickly, we are quickly able to assess what is happening around us, and thus in boring situations, are able to assess that there is nothing happening around us. Our own intelligence comes with the caveat that we are forever trying to expand our knowledge, lest we become unbearably bored with whatever knowledge we currently have. Human curiosity knows no bounds, and that is both a blessing and a curse.
Boredom is an Adventure
In the movie UP, the first 10 minutes or so centers on the relationship between the main character Carl and the love of his life, Ellie. In the video shown, you see them go through their life together beginning with their wedding. You see them purchase their first home together, an old run down house where they first met. Together, they toil away and bring it back to pristine condition, making it the home they have always dreamed of. They go on with their lives and one day decide to have a child, but discover that Ellie is not able to. Carl, in an attempt to bring her spirits up, promises to take her to the one place they have always dreamed of going, Paradise Falls. Unfortunately, life gets in the way. They are never able to get the money together and instead continue on with their normal, mundane lives. Then sadly in her old age, Ellie passes away, leaving Carl alone to mourn for her. Later in the movie, Carl can be seen holding Ellie’s adventure book, which she had made as a child to document all the amazing adventures she would go on. Looking at it, Carl is racked with guilt that he never got to take her on an adventure to Paradise Falls and help her fill out the rest of the pages. Just as he is about to close the book, a page slips and he sees the book is not as empty as he had once thought. In the section labeled “Stuff I’m Going to Do” he sees pictures. Pictures of their life together. Pictures of the nice, boring little life they shared together. To her, their boring little life that lacked adventure, was an adventure in and of itself.
I guess the point I am trying to make is this. Boredom is only a problem if you make it so. Even Ellie, a girl who loved adventure in her life, was happy in a life without adventure. That is because to her, the life she shared with Carl, as uneventful as it may have been at times, was all the adventure she needed. How we perceive our boredom, and how we choose to react to it, decide whether or not our Boredom is really a problem. Our boredom can become its own adventure.