yawn: these are such exciting times

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    WORD FOR WORD / Boredom

    Yawn: These Are Such Exciting Times

    Last week a Stanford University study, hotly debated, concluded that Internet use increases social isolation. But other experts detect maybe a more significant hallmark of the Internet age: not individual loneliness, but mass boredom.

    The Associated Press
    Boredom has even gone to the dogs.

    "We are bored despite living in remarkable times," concludes a recent annual survey of consumer attitudes by the market research concern Yankelovich Partners, which notes that last year 71 percent of roughly 2,500 respondents yearned for more novelty in their lives, up from 67 percent just a year earlier. The study calls the paradox the "boredom boom."
    "Just as a drug user develops a tolerance and needs larger doses to achieve the same effect, so too have we developed a tolerance to amazing events," the survey notes.
    In other words, if the Internet, the collapse of communism, the dawn of a new millennium, prosperity, bungee-jumping weddings and a couple of lesbians having babies with David Crosby's sperm leave you stifling yawns, join the crowd. Let's get an ennui update from the Internet and academe.
    -- By TOM KUNTZ


    In "Overload and Boredom: Essays on the Quality of Life in the Information Society" (Greenwood Press, 1986), the sociologist Orrin E. Klapp sought to explain "how a society could become boring in spite -- indeed because -- of huge loads of information":
    This is a high-input society. It seems that not a minute may be wasted in consuming commodities and communicating with as many people as possible. But in a Babel of signals, we must listen to a great deal of chatter to hear one bit of information we really want. We discover that information can become noiselike when it is irrelevant or interferes with desired signals, so tending to defeat meaning. . . . By taking in too much noise, a person becomes cluttered, not integrated. The result for our information society is that we suffer a lag in which the slow horse of meaning is unable to keep up with the fast horse of mere information.


    And so we grow bored. But boredom isn't all bad. In "Boredom and the Religious Imagination" (University Press of Virginia, 1999) Michael L. Raposa, a religion professor at Lehigh University, argues that it can be a catalyst to religious insight:
    I am convinced that there is a great deal to be learned from the experience of boredom (much of it religiously edifying) and that thinking about that experience can be interesting, even enjoyable (at least for some persons, in certain circumstances). What most intrigued my students about the topic was the ambiguity of boredom, its surprisingly complex nature. My being bored with someone or something can represent a trivial matter or a matter of great consequence. My disinterest can signify either a moral failure or the presence of virtue. . . . I can be bored, at least for a time, with something that I continue to care deeply about; even love cannot banish boredom altogether.


    In "Melancholy and Society" (Harvard University Press, 1992), Wolf Lepenies, a German scholar, quotes Kierkegaard's "Either/Or" on boredom's creative force:
    The gods were bored, and so they created man. Adam was bored because he was alone, and so Eve was created. Thus boredom entered the world, and increased in proportion to the increase of population. Adam was bored alone; then Adam and Eve were bored together; then the population of the world increased, and the people were bored en masse. To divert themselves they conceived the idea of constructing a tower high enough to reach the heavens. This idea is itself as boring as the tower was high, and constitutes a terrible proof of how boredom gained the upper hand.


    And of course boredom is nothing new. In "Boredom: The Literary History of a State of Mind" (University of Chicago Press, 1995), Patricia Meyer Spacks, an English professor at the University of Virginia, traces its legacy as a literary theme from Samuel Johnson to present-day writers like Saul Bellow:
    The history of boredom in its cultural constructions matters partly because boredom itself now appears to matter so much. If boredom can provide plausible justification for acts of violence or self-destruction, if the desire to forestall it sells fountain pens and trips around the world, if fiction writers assume it as the substratum of experience . . . if all of the above are true, it would seem that boredom has assumed broad explanatory power in a society widely felt to be baffling. . . . Its 20th century magnification absorbs ever more material into the maw of the meaningless and provides ever more material for the imaginative writer.


    Speaking of maws of the meaningless, the Internet now provides a rich lode of expressions of boredom. A visit to the Web site of the Boring Institute (www.boringinstitute.com) in turn provides a link to that of the Dull Men's Club (www.dullmen.com), which offers bits of dull trivia so you can "be a hit at the next dinner party you attend":
    -- Nutmeg is extremely poisonous if injected intravenously.
    -- When Heinz ketchup leaves the bottle, it travels at a rate of 25 miles per year.
    -- In Cleveland, Ohio, it's illegal to catch mice without a hunting license.
    -- The first toilet ever seen on television was on "Leave It to Beaver."
    -- The world's termites outweigh the world's humans 10 to 1.


    Even dogs are getting bored, especially those left alone, and owners are growing concerned. In an online pet-advice column (www.abap.org/bored.htm), Debbie Winkler and Lee Rudolph write:
    Bored dogs are frequently destructive, frequently urinate and defecate in the house, but are not anxious. A bored dog will slowly chew something, or several things, move objects around the house, eat or drink excessively, and sometimes even create "lick granulomas," generally on or above the paws. . . . With boredom, you need to crate your dog, or confine him in a dog-proof area.


    But boredom is a prerequisite to attaining heightened levels of perception, argues an unsigned, online article on psychic development (found at www.newvision-psychic.com/magazine/698/notdoing.html). It says that "to be bored is to be on the verge of being startled awake." Here's how:
    Sit on the ground outside and be bored.
    You may have to wait a while for true boredom to settle in. You have to sit long enough for your mind to recognize that running through its lists and endless chatter won't cause you to automatically re-engage in typical activities. Just sit there. Don't catalog all the things you see, or run through the list of tasks you want to accomplish that day. Just sit and watch, without interpreting.
    As you are sitting there you are probably starting to feel foolish. Children may waste their time not doing much of anything, but adults have things to do. More social patterning. Ignore it. . .
    Next, you might notice a little fear arising. Examine that fear for a bit. What do you think might happen to you, sitting here on the ground doing nothing? The answer: I don't know. And that's the frightening part. Once you are truly bored, you are stepping into the unknown. . . . You are stepping beyond the comfort of habitual patterns of perception.

    You are starting to itch.

    Breathe deeply, from the diaphragm, and relax. Gently resist the reflex to jump up and get busy with something. . . . Just sit, relax and watch. No rush, no hurry.

    Congratulations! You can now begin to be truly bored.

    Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company



    Latest Update by DLH: February 21, 2000
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