Monday, April 17, 2006


Does boredom have a purpose? Or is it a social evil, to be eliminated by positive thinking, hard work and clever technology? Mark Cuban (Blogmaverick) ironically prescribes gadgetry as the End of Boredom.

UK Schools Standards Minister David Miliband sees boredom as both cause and effect of educational failure.
Boredom is the bane of education ... the recruiting sergeant for disaffection, truancy and bad behaviour. [BBC News, Feb 2003]
Dr John Eastwood (a psychologist at York University, Toronto and joint author of The Unengaged Mind) argues that although boredom is common, it is neither trivial nor benign. [Ann Robinson, Is boredom bad for your health? Guardian 14 October 2012]

Now here are some voices in favour of boredom.
Dr Richard Ralley from Edge Hill College in Lancashire says there may be "legitimate rest" in boredom. Dr Ralley says parents should leave their children to feel fed up, rather than keeping them occupied, allowing them to recover from last term. And he urged parents not to be too hard on "inactive" children in the holidays. Dr Ralley told the BBC News website that boredom was an emotion and thus had a purpose, such as allowing children to get sufficient rest. [BBC News, April 2006]
The urgency with which we try to avoid boredom has a function, a purpose. It makes animals want to explore and learn what their environment is about. ... For our human society, boredom is the engine behind the creative drive that has given us our arts, our sciences, our literature, our technology. It has enriched us in truly astonishing ways. [Dr Renee Fuller, Boredom, That Powerful Emotion, HomeEducator's Family Times, Nov/Dec 2002]
The gift of boredom lies in its pinch of complacency. It is the gauntlet of challenge, an awakening to change, not a demon to flee but a road map for delving beyond. Says Leo Stein, "Boredom is an emptiness filled with insistence." [Gina Greenlee, Put Your Boredom To Good Use, Hartford Courant, via Greenberg Group]
Being bored can motivate people to 'engage in prosocial tasks and encourage more meaningful behaviour'. [Amelia Hill, Boredom is good for you, Guardian 6 May 2011]
"We can't avoid boredom – it's an inevitable human emotion. We have to accept it as legitimate and find ways it can be harnessed. We all need downtime, away from the constant bombardment of stimulation. There's no need to be in a frenzy of activity at all times." [Dr Esther Priadharshini, quoted by Ann Robinson, Is boredom bad for your health? Guardian 14 October 2012]
The artist Grayson Perry has reportedly spoken of how long periods of boredom in childhood may have enhanced his creativity. [Ann Robinson, Is boredom bad for your health? Guardian 14 October 2012]

But even some of those speaking up for boredom are apparently ambivalent.
But Dr Ralley said it was obviously important to find a balance between conserving energy and doing something rewarding. [BBC ibid] There’s no need for children ever to be bored, no more than there need be adults who resemble zoo animals screaming with rage because nothing exciting is happening. [Dr Fuller, ibid]
I found a sermon by a Baptist pastor, which claimed that Having No Purpose Leads to Boredom. At first reading, this appeared to be just another tract from the positive thinking movement. But when we put this together with the other quotes about boredom, a new systems insight emerges:

Lack of purpose leads to boredom; boredom leads to the discovery of new purpose. Boredom is therefore a mechanism (which, like most mechanisms, doesn't work always but does work sometimes) for turning no-purpose into purpose.

Hollywood-based writer and magazine publisher Alan M Pavlik writes a review of the debate - Boredom, More Useful Than You Thought, quoting an earlier version of this blogpost with apparent incomprehension. He links the fact that much of the debate is sourced from Britain with the fact that many people think Shakespeare is boring. So apparently the whole boredom thing is a British conspiracy, huh?

But there is a big difference between permitting boredom and imposing boredom. We are not talking about force-feeding children with Shakespeare (it might make them bored, but it's good for them) but about NOT force-feeding children with constant activity and stimulation (as if boredom had to be avoided at all costs).

@giles_fraser thinks we now live in a culture that is pathologically fearful of being bored, and sounds a warning about entertainment as an antidote for boredom. He concludes that our fear of boredom is simply a fear of coming face to face with ourselves (Guardian 28 June 2013)

(updated 29 June 2013)

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