Monday, April 16, 2012

The death of boredom?

Is it possible to be bored to death? A lot of kids say they are bored, even with more distractions (electronic and other) than I ever had growing up. Whether they suffer from some mild depression is possible in some cases. The same is true of many retired men, who don't know what to do with themselves. They can become depressed without the stimulation of learning or interacting with others.

Is it possible that the Internet will do away with boredom? This is what Clay Shirky suggests in a recent online interview. He says he was often bored as a boy and now is saved by the endless fascination of the Internet. He realizes that millions of others out there surfing the web are also bored--a communion of boredom that's a far cry from Merton's community of silence--and so he sees the value of being bored.

I suspect that when Shirkey gets to be my age, he will have different ideas. I doubt if any technology can alter human nature, which is essentially restless. The more intelligent we are, the most restless we become. And anyone who looks at sexual desire and its relation to spirituality begins, as Ron Rolheiser does, with a recognition that our hearts are restless, easily dissatisfied with what the world offers.

And so we seek constant stimulation. Or (if we are on a path to wisdom) we find some peace in meditation or in the practice of mindfulness. For me, the many routine, mind-numbing tasks we all have to do can be practices in the presence of God: reminders to be fully present to the special features of each day: to the way light comes in through a certain window or the breeze that I notice today that I didn't notice yesterday--these and many more can be opportunities for being grateful. And to pay attention to the reality of the present. Today IS unique even if it seems a dull reproduction of yesterday.

If boredom is the fear of running out of things to do, then we must curb the fear before it runs our lives and drives us to distraction. The Internet can help me when I feel restless or bored, but there are more satisfying ways to fight the onset of boredom. Perhaps, like Shirky, we should welcome the feeling of boredom since it can lead us to do something about it that is good for the soul.

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