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Boredom

Posted on: September 1, 2021

Here are my takeaways from Jason Feifer’s latest podcast episode, The Not-Boring Truth About Boredom. Being bored is not always a bad thing. It is not always a good thing either. And boredom is not a result of our reliance on today’s technology. 

The root of the complaint that people do not like being bored is technological determinism, i.e., technology makes us crave it all the time so we don’t feel bored. The podcast episode reminds us that this worry is not new and that it is coloured with nostalgia.

Video source

We could instead be informed with critical study. Feifer interviewed two academics who co-authored a book, Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stupid. Amongst other things, they revealed that people in the 1800s also felt bored and sought to fill this void.

I watched their introductory video for their book and was reminded of how we shape our technologies which then shape us. Our technologies reshape our expectations, emotions, and efforts. We need to recognise this recursive process instead of complain about it.

We shape our tools and then our tools shape us. -- Marshall McLuhan

He then interviewed John Eastwood, a professor who ran the Boredom Lab (Twitter account) at the York University of Toronto. Eastwood revealed two aspects of boredom: Desire bind and the unoccupied mind.

Desire bind is having available options to occupy oneself but not wanting to take any of them, e.g., having lots of videos on different platforms but not wishing to watch any of them. An unoccupied mind is the underutilisation of one’s cognitive abilities. 

Eastwood summed up his thoughts by pointing out that boredom is a crisis of agency: 

…agency refers to our capacity to think about the future, to develop plans, to monitor ourselves and regulate ourselves as we engage in a plan. And so boredom throws down the gauntlet that tells us you’re not being agentic in this moment, and it invites us to address that problem and to regain our sense of agency in the world. And that can be an opportunity to either go in some positive directions or some negative directions.

We have the agency to positively take our options and occupy our minds with meaningful and productive tasks. For example, I subscribe and listen to Feifer’s thought-provoking podcast and then reflect by writing in this blog.

Or we can sit back in our collective philosophy armchairs, complain, and do nothing of worth. That not only judgemental and ignorant, it is also the most boring thing to do!

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