A personal reverie on boredom
We’re all over-stimulated. Or I am, anyway.
Or, at least, that’s what I’m told. The white fuzz of excessive media scratches a line in my skin, boring into my brain, interminable and inexorable.
I’m told that I need to get away from it all—unplug—get off the grid and escape. I’m told that for my sanity I need to escape from the fuzz of media every now and then and go somewhere. Somewhere “peaceful” and “calm.”
Really, I know that’s a lie, because as soon as I get there my first instinct is to make more media. I take a selfie and share it with all my friends—or, at least, tangential acquaintances populating my internet spheres of influence—or make a video of the landscape that has been there for thousands of years without bothering with how it’s viewed on social media.
The soundbites—the videos—the pictures! Hundreds of megabits of information piped into my brain every second, in case I’m left alone for a moment with my own thoughts to consider what I think about it all.
Imagine it. The horror of being left alone for a moment? I am so paralyzed by the fear of being bored that I practically go into paroxysms at the suggestion that there won’t be wifi at the campsite. If I lose connection for a moment, I go into hot sweats, staring at the signal indicator on my devices, too distracted to pray even, and hoping that nobody notices my obsessive tick at every blinking light I can see in case this one is the one that tells me I am once again plugged into the all-knowing grid that feeds me entertainment and has the power to end my suffering.
And that is the behavior of an addict.
I have quite a…well, a hesitant relationship with opiates. I don’t mind admitting it now, although there was a time when I might not have been so blasé about it, but I am more relaxed about it now.
The reason I always found opiates nerve-wracking had to do with my understanding of pain, you see.
My mother always told me, pain has a purpose. Its purpose is to tell you to stop doing whatever it is, because you might need to heal. Pain signals where they healing needs to happen. For as long as the pain is happening, then healing needs to continue.
Because she encouraged me to think about this from a young age, I started wondering about pain killers. She encouraged that idea too.
I wondered if pain killers slowed healing. I reasoned that if the point of pain is to signal where healing needs to happen, because it signals where there’s damage, then the little fairies in charge of fixing me might get lazy on the job if the pain got assuaged too much too fast.
I don’t know if there’s science to support that idea. I imagine there might be, depending what kind of pain killers you take.
What there is science to support is the cycles of addiction.
I understand that addiction usually starts inside of us. It starts with some excess or shortcoming in my relationship with pleasure and pain. I seek something outside of me to cope with that excess or shortcoming. Then I keep seeking that thing, until I become dependent on it to create a balance—perceived or real—in my life. This is a grossly broad explanation of addiction, and in no way captures the whole complexity. There’s more to it than this. It covers the main cycle, though, speaking as an addict.
Addiction is a hard word. We all get a little nervous about it, and all of our reasons for being nervous are good reasons.
I think one of the most prevailing reasons that addiction is so hard to talk about is because it’s so similar to something that we all need to do every day that we’re always worried we’re all addicts.
Because addiction looks awfully similar to survival.
Which is how we forgive certain addictions.
But the thing is, they’re not the same.
In other science, they’ve speculated that boredom is a survival mechanism. It’s a mental torment.
Like any other pain, it’s something that is meant to spur us to do something.
There was a time when boredom got us to do things that improved our lives, so that we’d have a better tomorrow. You know, like, we’d be sitting in a field with all our friends. There was no more food to eat, and we weren’t really hungry anyway, but we were beginning to go mad because of the inactivity. So we banged a stick on a rock, which caught our buddy’s attention, and he howled.
Then before you know it, after ten thousand years of trying to make that work right, we’ve got to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir touring with Mannheim Steamroller, featuring Yngwie Malmsteen, and Industrial Lights and Magic on the pyrotechnics button-board.
That journey required an awful lot of bored afternoons, wondering how you could possibly improve on the stick-and-rock.
Which is a much different way of dealing with the torment of boredom than I’m used to.
I’m terrified of boredom. I’m terrified of being alone with my thoughts and the possible self-reflection and ennui which would inevitably arise from that. And I want to avoid the torment of boredom. So I do what everyone else does, and I consume the imagination of other people, like some…soul-eating idea leach. I never get any larger, but the hunger never goes away either.
And is stimulation really the right word for that? Are we truly over-stimulated? That’s the question.
The answer: maybe. But probably not.
Stimulation is encouragement. Stimulation is the process of raising physiological processes to a higher state so that something—anything—can happen.
But when was the last time you sat down to consume some media and thought to yourself, “I know—I’ll watch six hours of Friends reruns and light a fire under my imagination! I can already feel myself growing as an individual!”
For most of us—for me, maybe not most of us, but for me—the answer is not often. Not never, but not often.
Stimulation begets growth and change and evolution.
I am not over-stimulated.
I am, mostly, sated. If most media production companies get their way, that is. Satiation is a calm place, a comfy place. It feels like over-stimulation, I think, mainly because it occupies all my senses and enough of my brain to keep me busy. I’ve never got a moment anymore to feel the pain of boredom and sort of think about how we feel about things. If I’m bored, I’m called sad and told to consume more media and become happy again. And heaven help me if I ever try to break that addiction.
I am uncomfortable, but I rarely have time to try to deal with that. Everything is just too busy.
This story brought to you by Reverie, an experience by daCunha.
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Image: Unsplash | Matthew Henry