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by • January 28, 2014 • Life As I Know ItComments (4)2770

The Invention of Boredom

This is the first in a series of posts inspired by my #52in52 book challenge that I completed in 2013. My goal is to take a quote from each of the 52 books I read last year and write about how it inspired me, moved me, made me laugh, and/or changed the way I looked at the world.

“Boredom … is a modern invention.”

(Carl Honore – In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Changing the Cult of Speed)

Hello boredom my old friend (with apologies to Simon and Garfunkel). Perhaps it’s my extroversion, perhaps it’s my (self diagnosed) Type A personality, or perhaps it’s my near obsession with to do lists, goals, and outcomes, but boredom is somewhat of a dirty word in my vocabulary. I don’t like feeling idle, slow, or without purpose. Time doing nothing, to me, is time wasted.

Reading Honore’s book was as much born from idle curiosity as it was from a somewhat perverse fascination with this ‘other’ way of thinking. In praise of slow? Why would slow be something to celebrate? With so much to do and so little time, slow just didn’t fit. In fact, it took a vacation (a ‘forced’ period of slowness) for me to even open this book and begin to read.

What struck me about this quote in particular was the social and cultural construction of boredom. Naming boredom a modern invention implies a society that disdains slowness and idleness, constructing a term that labels such an undesirable state of being.

More importantly, inventing boredom as a modern conception implies a privilege rarely seen in the past. Our historic counterparts knew no (or little) idleness, having none of the technology and other tools we take for granted. Labour was a given, not a choice. Idleness, boredom, has become a privilege.

This modern invention of boredom may also be a result of our current society being spoiled with choice. While many inspirational quotes and pictures extol the many and various ways we can occupy ourselves, perhaps we are overindulged. Having too much means nothing is enough, and having easy access to everything diminishes the value of any one thing.

I also find it curious that boredom, as a modern term, could be seen as invented rather than more naturally evolving with industrial and societal progress. If necessity is the mother of invention, then to what, or to whom, is boredom necessary? Is it necessary to use a negative term to describe having nothing to do to show we loathe our idleness, even when we enjoy or even welcome it? Did we invent an unappealing state of slowness to show our allegiance to the cult of speed Honore describes in his book?

In my own life, boredom has come to represent a strange form of failure. Being unable (or unwilling) to find something to do runs counter to my need to be doing and being – the ‘ing’ of action, however small yet forward, soothes anxiety and creates purpose in a way I haven’t yet found in inaction and stillness. Honore’s book confronted me with thoughts on slowness that mirrored my admiration for speed – replace ‘speed’ with ‘slow’ in the book and it could have been written by me.

One task I’ve given myself in 2014 is to consciously consider, and in some cases remove, certain words from my vocabulary that don’t serve to show kindness and authenticity, for myself and toward others. Boredom, bored, and boring are now on that list. Instead of being ‘bored’, I see now that my mind is craving rest – a break from the mental treadmill to catch its breath, look around, and see how far its come. I’m not bored anymore – I’m choosing to be still. Therein lies the ‘cure’ for boredom, it seems. The same as its cause. Choice.

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4 Responses to The Invention of Boredom

  1. I was happy to see the distinction between boredom and mental stress. I don’t mind boredom because it breeds creativity, so in my mind it’s not that evil because I see it leading to something. However I understand where you’re going, mental rest is needed to retain some semblance of sanity and to refresh yourself. I think taking things slow gives your brain a chance and space to create (or let genius flow in – http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html). Thanks for the morning read!

    • lmendersby says:

      That’s a great perspective shift, Steven. I’ve found it hard to reconcile boredom with creativity because one seems more passive than the other. My challenge is learning to find the ideas and inspiration in the stillness, rather than always having to work for them. Thanks for the TED talk share too!

  2. joeginese says:

    Boredom as failure reminds me of looking at Facebook and thinking that the “highlight reel” means no one is ever bored or just sits still, they are always doing something.

    Good reflective post Lisa. Thanks for sharing.

    • lmendersby says:

      Thanks Joe! That’s a great link to the ‘highlight reel’ conversation. Boredom does seem like a failure when you’re the only one sitting on your couch while everyone else is off having adventures. Of course, the highlight reel misconstrues the idea of ‘always’ and everyone’. 🙂 Thanks for reading!

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