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In defense of boredom

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The Observer was listening to National Pointyhead Radio when we heard a blurb for an upcoming segment about a radical experiment: having a group of volunteers give up their smartphones for a few days, just to see what they'd do with boredom. This idea isn't all that radical to Yours Truly. We actually like boredom. We were raised on it.

Like a lot of you, The Observer is a stranger here in this bright future, so full of flying cars, thousand-mile-an-hour monorails and cities that gleam like forests of opal on the horizon. The Observer is the last of what might be called the Boredom Generation, Children of the Three Stations, one of them fuzzy, one about British Bodice Dramas and cooking, and one of which seemed to play only preachers and televised golf. As hard as it may be to believe, young ones, sometime around midnight, the three channels we did get would go off. Yes. No foolin'. The National Anthem would play over some pretty shots of Arlington National Cemetery, the Washington Monument and a few of our nation's vast stockpile of roaring, Commie-fighting jets, and then the channel would go to snow until dawn. At that point, you either stared at the sparkling fuzzle until you were sober enough to stagger to bed, or you damn well turned it off and sat in the dark.

While we know we're veering into Old Coot in His Rockin' Chair territory, we're not bashing the future. It's nice here, to a point. Not all the I.D. thievery, of course. Not the newspapers going under, Old Ironside dailies finally sunk not by Tricky Dick or bigots' boycott, but by furious volleys of ones and zeroes. Not North Korea being able to blackmail us into withholding from the great human conversation a cinematic triumph about dudes farting on one another. Not Tweet Hate. Not Nigerian scammers, or that nice young lady from "The Hunger Games" getting her nudie shots stolen and distributed to every slavering perv, or the gubmint being able to see what The Observer has been watching on Netflix. No, none of that. But we do like some things about this future. We like, for instance, being able to learn anything we ever wanted to learn. Need to change the alternator on a 1997 Dodge Neon? There's a video for that on YouTube. There. Isn't that nice?

What we started with before we got off on alternators and three channels, though, is boredom. Boredom, we'd argue, is an absolute good that's in dire short supply these days. The Observer as a lad got up to a lot in our boredom, before technology decided to go and stuff all our lives with so much entertainment that living is like being at a perpetual State Fair. We drew our dreams from boredom, like a sword from a stone, and made them real. We pondered the state of our sorry self and our place in the world. We wrote and played and tinkered aimlessly, comfortable in the idea that time was so plentiful as to be tiresome and therefore could never be wasted on frivolous things. We considered the dust. Junior, on the other hand, is 15, and has never known boredom. He always has something to occupy him: books; and if not books, then movies; and if not movies, then TV; and if not TV, then video games; and if not video games then the bottomless, glistening pool of the Internet. It occurs to His Old Man, too late, that this is something like tragedy. Faced with boredom, the human mind will find ways to occupy itself. In that way, boredom is the plain dirt from which all beautiful things grow. Ugly things too, but mostly lovely things.

Now, if you'll excuse us, we're going to go sit on a park bench by the river in the sun, turn off the phone, and do nothing for a while. Join us there, if you can, Dear Traveler. If you can't, do so at some point soon. Who knows? Being bored might be the most interesting thing you do all day.

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