A Lack of Effort
Today’s society puts a great value on instant gratification. People don’t like to wait for anything, and patience is viewed as an irrelevant annoyance rather than a standard. Slowly, this need for a constant, immediate stimulus is putting a strain on our culture. People are having increasing difficulty entertaining themselves, or finding entertainment and meaning in the facets of everyday life. No longer is society willing to put in any effort. Boredom is becoming natural and more common. More and more often, individuals are giving up on trying to find meaning in what they do, and are ceasing to respond to their own lives. It’s become a game, a constant search for something, anything, to relieve boredom, and it’s hurting us. On every level, boredom is cropping up and interfering with the greater picture of a satisfying life. And society isn’t doing anything to stop it.
Boredom as Defined by Thomas Oden, 1969
In his 1969 book, The Structure of Awareness, Thomas C. Oden defined awareness by using the structures of Guilt, Anxiety, and Boredom. Guilt refers to a past self, while anxiety refers to a future self. Boredom deals with the present self, and the present awareness and experience one is having. Several pathways exist which ultimately lead to boredom. The first is the feeling of emptiness, which impedes the goal of self-actualization. This is what is most commonly experienced as boredom. On a larger scale, boredom can also arise from the feeling of meaningless, something more like depression. By analyzing the diagram, we see that the “now” is related to the “self” by experiencing the present moment and being responsive, which would be to say that a lack of responsiveness would also lead to boredom.
A Website to Demonstrate “Instant Gratification”
Following this hyperlink leads to a website called “i am bored.” The entire site is a collection of other hyperlinks that lead to games, videos, articles, pictures, and other websites aimed at entertainment. From the home page, we see that 60 pages of the hyperlink list have been posted. In the sidebar, there are links to other feeds of the same nature. The entire website is dedicated to sharing links that will alleviate boredom. It’s actually marketed as a website for bored users to find immediate entertainment. In theory, the premise is useful, but the site encourages people to come back every day. If the site actually cured people of their boredom, it would be out of business. Not that this would ever happen, because the very nature of the website shortens people’s attention spans, making them ultimately more susceptible to boredom.
Similar Such Websites
These websites are dubbed the “Bored Button” and “StumbleUpon.” They is similar to the premise of “i am bored,” but instead of listing other hyperlinks, these websites have a button that randomly jumps to another page of the Internet when clicked. Granted that some of these pages have educational value, the websites as a whole are even less interactive. Both contain a special code that leaves the button in a top bar on every new website, so as soon as the user is done looking at the current page, they can click the button again and find somewhere new to go. Rather than looking through a list for personally interesting topics, users just repeatedly click a button to find a source of entertainment. From personal experience, I can confirm that websites such as these actually breed boredom after a time, rather than combat it. It gives people an excuse not to try.
A Quote Society Could Learn From
“Is boredom anything less than the sense of one’s faculties slowly dying?” –Arthur Helps
This particular quote by Arthur Helps exemplifies the problem with commonplace boredom. Boredom is not something that a person should experience typically. To be frequently bored is to have an issue, mentally. Something is wrong when the average person can’t be satisfied with their life without being plagued by boredom. And as we have already seen, this is the case in society today, given the existence of websites previously mentioned and the culture that corresponds to them. People aren’t trying to fend off boredom; rather they are expecting to be presented with some entertaining thing at all times. I would say that this widespread attitude shows society’s faculties dying.
There was a young girl, who was exceptionally bright and had potential to do great things. As she grew older, it was apparent that she had a passion for science and math, and excelled at research and complex problem solving. However, she was also a young girl, and enjoyed doing normal activities like her friends. She spend a large amount of time on the Internet, and playing games, and online shopping, and watching television. This behavior never concerned her parents, as they knew how great her intellect was, and they felt assured that her partaking in normal teenage activities would never be able to disrupt her mental clarity. As time went on, however, the girl noticed herself having difficulty remaining focused on tasks that once came so easily to her. Simple things, like doing homework or reading an assignment, took hours to complete, as she was facing constant distraction. Even when she was alone with nothing but her work and her thoughts, she couldn’t remain focused, no matter how hard she tried. She tried to make light of it, and would joke about it with her friends, as if it were some funny stubbornness that was preventing her from doing her work, as she should have. But deep down, she knew something was wrong. Somehow, she had destroyed her ability to focus, and was bored and frustrated more often than she was productive, or happy, for that matter. In trying to be a normal kid as society would have, she had sunk to the level of the average, mindless person, unable to be entertained by anything. And she would never forgive herself for it.
On “Boredom Proneness” and a Study of Real People
John D. Watt and Michael B. Hargis wrote a paper, entitled “Boredom Proneness: Its Relationship with Subjective Underemployment, Perceived Organizational Support, and Job Performance.” The body of the paper detailed a study that the two performed on a group of lab technicians, and explained the relation between boredom and the workplace. The basic findings related to three areas: subjective underemployment, perceived organizational support, and job performance, as the title states. For subjective underemployment, it was found that employees who were identified as “prone to boredom,” overall, responded that they felt underemployed, or underutilized in their job. A possible cause of this is that their intellect exceeds what is required to perform their job, which would naturally lead to boredom. The second aspect was organizational support, which means how much an employee felt that the employer was supporting them in their endeavors. Once again, the boredom-prone mostly responded that they did not feel supported by their organization. The last, and most telling, aspect was job performance. Taken across a wide pool of data, it was found that bored employees had the worst job performance across the companies. This is especially interesting when considering that these bored employees are the same ones who felt they were being underutilized at work. The two authors collected a great amount of data, and uncovered other trends aside from what was titled in the paper. For instance, they found that boredom proneness has been significantly negatively correlated with self-actualization, which corroborates the feelings of underemployment. They also mentioned that the “boredom proneness” was “trait boredom,” meaning that each person who suffered the boredom experienced it as though it were a permanent character trait. All in all, Watt and Hargis concluded that boredom is an especially relevant concept when examined in the workplace, and further supports the harmful nature of chronic boredom.
David Foster Wallace and Chapter 44
In his book The Pale King, David Foster Wallace makes the claim that boredom is a conquerable trait, and once a person has become unborable, they can accomplish absolutely anything. There are many different ways to approach this discussion, but the Watt and Hargis study actually makes a good argument in favor of Wallace’s point. The real people working at real companies who possessed a trait boredom were the most unfulfilled and unsuccessful employees at their companies. Given that the employees were aware of their displeasure and overall negative standing in the workplace, it begs to ask why they didn’t attempt to overcome their boredom, and make a serious effort to become more engaged in their jobs. The employees who did not experience boredom were successful and more satisfied in life, as Wallace suggested they would be.
Life and Needs
Looking at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, self-actualization is at the top, while physiological needs are at the bottom. Boredom plays a role perhaps somewhere in the middle, as entertainment is not essential to life, but at the same time prevents the highest level from ever being reached. Human nature pushes us to climb Maslow’s pyramid, but society is breeding a harmful kind of attitude that leaves us stuck in the middle. People don’t want to be bored, but have been taught and conditioned to be bored much of the time. Instead of doing anything to rectify this, we are falling into complacency and further boredom. Putting oneself in a mindset like Arthur Helps or David Foster Wallace could be the first step towards alleviating boredom, and having people make an effort for their own well-being.