It seems a telling sign of our technology-angst that we’re getting nostalgic for, of all things, boredom. I have memories of youthful boredom that are as vivid and unpleasant as the memories I harbor of my more serious sports injuries, and yet, when I read of some new research saying the brain needs boredom, or kids today aren’t bored enough, my first thought is: Ah, blessed boredom. (My second thought is: Check email.) And it’s not just me. A trickle of pro-boredom research has inspired a flood of pro-boredom sentiment.
On one hand, defending boredom seems stern and unsympathetic, like a Depression-born mom impatient with her complaining children. (Hi, Mom.) But the depression-era parent urged a kind of stoicism, bearing-up against fake or minor suffering as a moral lesson of childhood. For today’s middle-agers, relishing the image of a teenager thrown into fidgets by a dead cellphone, boredom is not merely fake suffering. It’s important in its own right, a state of latent fertility. It leads to creativity. The contemporary defender of boredom is not a stoic. She’s a graying humanist, the martinet as art teacher.
The thing about boredom, at least as a kid and currently as a kid-like adult, is that you can either succumb to it and wallow in the boredom by watching television, or you can move past it by finding things to do and positive ways to occupy your time.