Emily Lam

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

I've Been Thinking About Boredom

When I was a kid, I used to sprawl on the sofa, with my head hanging off the edge of it and my feet propped up against the backrest, and lament to my mother, "I'm bored. There's nothing to do." Of course, there was always something to do -- I could've cleaned my room -- but there was nothing I wanted to do. And when you're a kid, you can get away with not doing anything. You had time to be bored. And from that boredom, you started something new or you didn't. It was okay either way.
"The biggest problem with Twitter is that I'd be in a taxi and I'd be on Twitter and it would keep me interested. I realised I wasn't getting bored enough and [that I needed to get bored] to start plotting things and coming up with ideas." -- Neil Gaiman, The Sydney Morning Herald
This quotation appeared on my blog recently. And I get Gaiman. Nowadays, I don't have time to be bored and with my thoughts. So often, I find myself with one desire and it's to sleep. Poor time management is probably part of the reason I don't have time to sleep, let alone be bored. But another is because I'm just doing things. I'm a graduate student, which means the bulk of my time is committed to my research and coursework. There's also the daily chores, social obligations, and sometimes hobbies. And time that used to be idle, such as, bus rides, breaks, when I just wake up, right before bed, lulls in conversations, etc., are consumed by smartphone checkups, social media. 

There's isn't much time to be bored when there's a never-ending queue of things to do. Done with work? Okay, now I can relax or check out that art exhibit or write that blog post. And so, I don't plan things too far in advance. I've been taking life as it comes at me, focusing on each day, each week, each month as it arrives, and trying not get overwhelmed. But yet, my schedule fills right up. I had thought that this would help. That by living in the moment and not worrying about the future, I'd settle into some sort of relaxed and restful groove. It kind of worked, I'm not too stressed these days. But do you know what I miss? I miss hanging out with thoughts.

By living in the moment, I was moving from one thing to the next. I stopped thinking about the future and reflecting on the past. Well I didn't really want to think about the future for more than one reasons. For one, I knew I had to make a decision soon about whether I wanted to stay in school for my PhD or not and I didn't really want to think about it nor did I have the time to really ponder it. I also didn't want to think about the future because I realize the importance of living now. As for reflecting, I don't know, lack of time, not prioritizing it? I watched a Jenna Marbles video recently where she reflected on things she's learned in her 29 years on earth. She made one comment that resonated with me. She said that without reflecting, you don't get better at life.

Here's another quotation from Gaiman:
"I feel that I'm getting too dependent on phones, on Twitter [..] It's a symbiotic relationship. That instant ability to find things out, to share. I want to see what happens when I take some time off." -- Neil Gaiman, The Guardian
Everything is accessible from your smartphone. There's no process or hurdle in obtaining information. Even thoughts have become sort of just things you look up. What do I think about Climate Change? Let me look up what other people are saying. This whole post has a bunch of thoughts from other people. There are even events where you can go and listen to other people's thoughts, like TED. Recently, I went to TEDxBeaconStreet and I sat there soaking in other people's awesome thoughts instead of having my own. It was a great event, I thoroughly enjoyed it. But I do admit that it felt kind of lazy being spoon-fed thoughts, which leads to this next quotation.
"Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking." -- Albert Einstein
Einstein mentions just reading but I think it applies to all mediums where thoughts are conveyed. Based on these quotations by Gaiman and Einstein, not only do we not have adequate time to think because we are no longer bored enough to do so, we are also lazy about the way we think. (Obviously, Einstein is not condemning reading. In fact, his threshold of "too much" is probably much higher than the typical amount of reading an average person does.)

So what now? I don't know. Maybe I can dial down my social media usage and allow and prioritize some idleness in life. I've found walking to and from lab a good time to be with my thoughts -- you can't really safely use your smartphones while walking yet.

And because I like to leave some sort of media for discussion, here's a video of a Juan Enriquez's TEDx talk from TEDxBeaconStreet. I really liked his talk because he talks about how really smart people are sometimes wrong, and it's not always the fault of the individual. It's important to create a space, where we don't shame people for having 'wrong' ideas because they/we just don't know they're/we're wrong yet.

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