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In defense of boredom

posted by Tim Carmody   May 25, 2018

Monica Heisey was recently stuck on an airplane without much to do. Luckily, she made an essay out of it. “Being Bored Is Fun and Good, Sorry” is (surprisingly?) crackling with energy and insight.

In 2018, it is easy and common to be tired, depressed, burnt out, dulled, vibrating with mundane panic, desperate for the sweet release of death, etc. But to be peacefully understimulated with no relief in sight is almost impossible. The average person’s life is full of little tasks to complete, group chats to respond “haha, yeah” to, emails to circle back on, and people you went to high school with to determinedly ignore on the bus. The entire world is one giant beeping alert to things we should do or can do or will do in the future, things we are doing at that moment but could be doing faster. It’s more or less impossible to be bored. Bored means there are not thousands of to-do’s to accomplish. Bored means it doesn’t matter that there’s not. Bored means you are free. In a time of endless, empty stimuli, it is a thrill to be understimulated.

That said, I feel like there’s something of a bait-and-switch here. There’s boredom, which for me is defined by the frustration at having nothing appealing to do, and then there’s a lack of busyness or stimulation, which offers the possibility of a zen-like moment that transcends that frustration. We might call them both boredom, but they’re really not the same thing. But this is splitting hairs. The point is, opportunities for boredom can also be opportunities to be something better than busy, if you approach them the right way.