Columns

2014.04.30 A little time for boredom

on . Posted in By The Way

I've never been a friend of boredom. In fact, I remember in the past referring to boredom as a sin. There is so much to do and see and explore; there's no excuse to be bored.

And so I read with interest an essay by Evengy Morozov called "Only Disconnect: Two cheers for boredom." That goes against my notion of boredom as something to avoid.

I soon discovered that Morozov was writing about modern life, about our state of "permanent receptivity," as the German writer Siegried Kracauer referred to the condition way back in 1924. Kracauer was calling for "extraordinary, radical boredom" to fight against the hustle and bustle of modern society.

Kracauer: "People today who still have time for boredom and yet are not bored are certainly just as boring as those who never get around to being bored." What's that? I've read that several times now; still working on it.

I dug into the essay last night, a little bit after a friend answered a question I had asked via an instant message. She answered it several hours after it was asked, which surprised me, but she explained that she hadn't had her cell phone with her. That surprised me, too. I've known her to live in that state of "permanent receptivity." I was surprised earlier in the week when I sent an e-mail to her about something and never heard back until she was home after work. What's going on here?

I asked if she was trying to make her phone no longer her best buddy and she said that was true.

A lot of readers are familiar with the Cold Water Challenges going on in the area. Someone jumps into a pond in April and names a few other people to do the same. They do, and they challenge others to do the same, etc.

My friend heard about the Cell Phone Challenge—I will leave my phone at home today and I challenge you, you and you to do the same. I don't know if she was officially challenged, but the idea had some appeal and she gave it a try. And then even on a Saturday she left it at home while off doing weekend stuff.

I challenge readers to think about what it would be like to part with your cell phone for an entire day. It's such an alluring little piece of addiction to hold in your hand. I know, some people even use their phones to call people. I don't want to talk to anyone; I just like the connection. 

I went unconnected for a little over a week recently after the death of my phone. It wasn't radically boring, but Kracauer would have loved it anyway. After all, he's the guy who wrote about shutting yourself inside your house, drawing the curtains and surrendering to the boredom: "Eventually one becomes content to do nothing other than be with oneself." Or maybe, in some cases, to keep a little more attuned to what you're supposed to be doing.

I asked my friend if she found it boring when her phone wasn't in her hands.

"I don't think it's boring," she said. "I think it's kind of a relief. But it does kind of drive you nuts, and you do miss out on some things."

She also worries about missing out on something important, like a phone call from relatives, so maybe she needs a dumbphone for work while her smartphone is at home.

Some people realize their addiction, want release, and buy software such as Freedom that locks you away from the internet for a specific amount of time so you can get some work done. Morozov, the article's author, knows how to work around Freedom so he eventually bought a safe with a timer to force himself out into the other world. My friend wishes there was more of that going on because of the number of kindergartners who don't have the skills they need. She thinks that's technology related. They need communication with people instead of the distraction of a video screen.

Morozov doesn't want people to look at boredom and distraction as if they were at odds with one another. Even Kracauer enjoyed dancing and travel. It's a matter of finding the balance between on-line life and real life.

But even my phone is trying to tell me something. After I unplugged it from the charger, a message appeared: "Without a powerful phone, you can have a pleasure weekend."

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