The importance of boredom

I think we might all be losing our minds.

I was out for drinks the other evening with a group of friends I’ve known for years, and we were all like, ‘The thing, you know that thing, oh what is it again?’ or, ‘She was in that film with that other one, whatshername, with the hair.’ We are losing words like a holey bucket loses water.

Of course, there’s a teeny chance it might be age. I myself have noticed a peculiarly one-in, one-out system when it comes to my memories of late; sure, I can go see a play with you but, just so you know, I’ll be losing all my recollections of that holiday with the brownies circa 1983. 

But actually, I think it’s one part age, one part information overload. My friends and I grew up in a time when the receipt of information was clearly signposted: we had the TV on, or a book open; we were sitting at our desktop computer, or in our school uniform; we were in church, or at badminton lessons, or playing Kerplunk. There were markers, boundaries, pointy sticks. There were rules. And there was something else too. Boredom. A lot of it.

I miss boredom. We kids of the ’70s and ’80s grew up with three TV channels, which always seemed to be showing Antiques Roadshow. Boredom was as common as woodchip, and even more difficult to eradicate.  My own battle against boredom involved reading everything in the house:  The Reader’s Digest. The Encyclopaedia Britannica. My grandma’s People’s Friend. The entire oeuvre of Catherine Cookson, making me the world’s foremost expert in the plight of working class women in the North East amongst ten year olds. And, because nature abhors a vacuum, when I ran out of stories, I started creating them.

There’s no vacuum like that now. Open your browser window and within seconds you’re getting the latest on that global disaster, browsing a celeb’s new hairstyle, following a twitter scandal, liking your colleague’s cat, checking your horoscope, commiserating on your cousins divorce, typing an email to your boss, signing an e-petition and sharing a video of a man stealing a baseball off a crying child.  You’re checking that news feed on the train. You’re browsing that website whilst standing in a queue. Information has invaded every available space, seeping in, relentless as water.

It has to be addling our brains. Lately, when I find myself disinclined to push on with a creative project, I note how many times I’ve been on Facebook in the last twenty minutes and remember that my old motivation for dreaming up new worlds was because the alternative was re-reading The Cinder Path for the seventeenth time or waiting three hours for Count Duckula.  When my brain feels like a maxed-out credit card by mid-afternoon, I realise that, if I want a surfeit of smarts, I need to stop skimming it off watching lifehacks about the best way to open a packet of crisps.  I need to claim back some of my mental real estate.

Alas knowing and doing are two very different things.  Courting boredom is like setting fire to your own head: a difficult thing to voluntarily experience. But we can bring boredom back. And we must! Otherwise, we’ll end up just like that guy did in that film. Thingy. You know the one. With the hair.