Thursday, Sep. 20, 2018

Is The World Actually Getting More Boring? (And What To Do About It)

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January 30, 2017

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Is The World Actually Getting More Boring? (And What To Do About It)

All these boredom tweets, dp’s and the like that keep popping up on my social media have always made me think: how can you be bored when there is such an abundance of entertainment at your fingertips—on the very device that you are posting with? But on reflection, don’t I myself suffer from boredom? Doesn’t everyone? Even if they don’t post it on social media and make the irony so apparent.

So it made me wonder: is our world actually less boring than that of ages-gone? Could it even be more boring—at least in some ways?

Is Work Getting More Boring Or Is It Just Me?

Just for the record, my job is not boring, but I know many many people who are well and truly, thoroughly and have been for years bored to death with their jobs. There are only so many columns that can be tabulated, patties flipped, cans filled and etc. before this exact thing that is the main thing that you do becomes the thing you resent most in the world. Unfortunately, this is one of the realities of industrial labour.

The root of so much of the world’s boredom is also at the core of industrialisation, mass production and the massive efficiency gains that they have conferred. Specialisation. This is where one person does one small part of a large process (too large and complicated to feel satisfaction from their meagre contribution to) over and over again until they get really good at it and really fast at doing it and it becomes actually way too easy from their standpoint and becomes exceedingly dull. But of course, if you work one such job, you are already well aware of all this.

Fortunately, this kind of pinpoint specialisation reached its zenith in the industrial revolution circa 1800 when worker’s rights and workplace psychology was in its foetal infancy. Nowadays we have lunchtime breaks and even some variety in many occupations that recognise the importance of variation and challenge for morale and hence productivity.

But the postindustrial workplace is most marked by a shift away from repetitive machine-like labour. The reason that I rarely express Ludditian anxieties about machines/robots/computers/the internet putting people out of jobs is that since the industrial revolution, the consistent pattern has been that in the long-run these technologies increase productivity → increase resources, wealth, stimulate the economy → increase jobs. But these new jobs that are created are more often not of the repetitive kind, but of the kind that only humans can do. There are far more creative professionals, content writers (that’s me), marketers etc. today than there ever were and this is because today’s digitally streamlined, web-connected businesses can afford them.

Hence, while work may be getting more boring over time if you are stuck in the same job, the future looks bright for jobs that don’t turn people into living machines.

Can Overstimulation Cause Boredom? Does this make sense?

It’s a paradox that is best evidenced by social media posts like that at the top of the page. But it is one of the only explanations for how people can be bored in this informationally saturated world. Perhaps excessive information causes no information to be interesting? —In a similar way to how glucose, alcohol, caffeine, etc. can loose their effect with repeated usage.

I know from personal experience—of the decadent 3 month uni holiday in which entire days on end can be spent browsing the web and watching shows that there can come a point where you can get bored of everything. You have sated all interest in all the things you like. And all true hedonists know that complete satiation is a deep melancholy.

Therefore (and you can reflect on this personally next time you feel bored): is much of modern-day boredom not understimulation but overstimulation?

Science Is Demistifying The World

One way that technology may have made us more bored is by demystifying the world. Nowadays you can look up giant squid, the surface of Mars, plastic surgery gone wrong or the ‘artefacts’ of Ed Gein (NOTE: Please do not actually click on the last two) any time you want from the comfort of your own home, as many times as you want and at any age. The experience of looking up something on the internet is a bit duller than seeing it on TV in my experience. And that is because of the abundance of other information at your fingertips, making us get into the usage pattern of clicking frantically from link to link and not appreciating any single link to the same extent. Like channel surfing, but much, much worse.

Just 30 years ago, if you heard that one of your favourite things was on TV, you would race into the living room, tell your family and maybe even celebrate with a beer.

In the 1980s, the mobile phone was a cutting-edge, mindblowing concept. That this handheld device sent signals in all directions, a fraction of which reached an antenna and relayed in all directions to another mobile phone anywhere in the world. And this all happened bidirectionally and almost instantly. The world was getting weird, very weird. But today, it is more weird and sci-fi than ever, but we are just so used to it that we don’t think about it. Furthermore, we are used to our technologies being a black box—too complicated, numerous and enclosed in a synthetic material to understand.

And rewind further, before modern science itself—the world is a magical place of spirits, ghosts, premonitions, omens, elders and other elements of modern-day fantasy fiction.

Boredom as Real Pain—how boredom is a serious matter

Boredom is often overlooked for two main reasons:

  1. It makes you focus on the lack of stimulation rather than the boredom itself.
  2. It is, by its nature: boring. Hence it makes you not want to think about it or talk about it with others.
  3. Many people are ashamed to admit they are bored because of the common conception that people who are bored are boring people, even that people who hold boring jobs are boring. It implies lack of imagination which is scientifically incorrect.

In fact, boredom only became a word in 1852 when it was invented by Charles Dickens in his novel Bleak House (this author is known for inventing words that have become part of our language). Why was it not a word before this? Is it because (A) the world was less boring back then, (B) people just don’t talk about boredom or (C) boredom is not a serious matter?

(B) and as you will see (A) are quite plausible, but (C) is certainly not. Anyone who thinks that boredom is an immature, effete and harmless problem is unfortunately not living in the real world. Boredom can build up to extreme degrees if a person is deprived of stimulation over extended periods or if they have an attention-deficit disorder and can become a serious health and mental health hazard. Boredom has been correlated with depression, anxiety, overeating, alcohol and drug abuse and other lifestyle disorders and workplace injuries. And it’s not hard to see why.

I had my own experience with extreme boredom a few weeks ago and it gave me a lot of time to contemplate the true seriousness of this problem. I spent a night in hospital with brain swelling that made me unable to think imaginatively or hold any straight thought whatsoever for the entire time. And for restive purposes, I wasn’t allowed a book or electronic device to keep me occupied. My thought process for the entire night was like this: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

So if you’ve ever had an experience like this, if you have an attention-deficit disorder, if you have read The Pale King by David F Wallace or if you work in one of the non-glamour professions e.g. the taxation department you will already grasp the true nature of boredom.

It becomes apparent that boredom is actually a type of pain—in the psychological definition of pain that includes things that don’t feel like sharp jabs but nevertheless hurt quite a lot like sadness. In fact, a study showed that past a certain point, people start to choose pain over boredom—electing to receive small electric shocks just to momentarily stimulate themselves.

Closing Remark

Therefore, boredom is a serious problem in our modern world and something that should be recognised, talked openly about and remediated. This is on a societal, institutional and personal basis. Because boredom is often an un-self-reflective feeling that can evade its own solution so next time you feel bored, it may help to reflect on this article and use it to recognise and treat it.

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