I don’t have children, but I know from friends who do that, despite the mind-boggling entertainment opportunities available in the 21st century, helping to alleviate their boredom in the summer holidays can be a test of creativity akin to sculpting them in marble. Children still think there’s “nothing to do”. They’re still bored. And despite adults thinking of the phrase “I’m bored” as the whining mantra of the inexplicably dissatisfied child, we adults are bored too. Boredom is endemic. And it’s getting worse….
Does this persistent, gnawing boredom damage us? It’s not a question that’s been asked much in the 150 years since we started moaning about it; even philosophers seem to find boredom boring, preferring instead to concentrate on ethics and epistemology. Goethe reckoned that boredom was the premier creative impulse, and without it we’d never even bother picking up a pen, paintbrush, musical instrument or, these days, a 5-megapixel digital camera. But the average teenager in an average British town on an average Friday night would find themselves hard pushed to value the boredom that’s been forced upon them by modern life. Boredom is the predominant cause of inner city violence, because, tragically, violence is exciting. And that briefest of thrills is increasingly unlikely to be displaced by the prospect of a game of table tennis.
I’m not a philosopher, obviously. I’m just someone who’s a bit bored, so the idea of me offering advice is laughable. But in the absence of religious fervour, class war or complete economic meltdown to distract us, a better way to deal with boredom than desperately pursuing excitement might be to embrace it. Welcome that feeling of mild dissatisfaction.
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