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  • Hendren Global Group: Been bored lately? You should try it some time

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    It may be boring to say, but we don't do boredom like we used to do boredom. Not really. It's not hours stretching slowly into hours of total nothing any more, where the chin sinks heavily into the hand and stays there all day. It's not boredom like if we're old enough we may remember from childhood, and if we're young we've never really known. The freneticism of modern life makes that type of boredom almost impossible. What we have now is a kind of boredom interrupted.

    When we're bored now we look at our iPhones, check email, scan Twitter, play Angry Birds, watch a video of a talking dog. We fill up those ever-shorter moments of empty time that one mobile phone company (in selling mode) called ''micro-boredoms''. Sometimes I find I'm staring at my phone and have no recollection of even wanting to do so. It's just habit, a quick fix, an instinctive response to boredom's early warning signs. Like all quick fixes, of course, it doesn't really work. Social media and iPhones aren't a cure for boredom so much as a distraction from it. And it is a distraction that has the twin effect of contributing in the end to the very thing the bored person wants distracting from, i.e. their boredom, and denying the bored person the uses or advantages it is thought true, uninterrupted boredom can offer.

    According to a paper that attempted to define boredom, by clinical psychologist Dr John Eastwood in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, the bored person is restless and lethargic and wants but is unable to engage in satisfying or meaningful activity. All instances of boredom, Eastwood says, essentially involve a failure of attention.

    Advertisement Which is a worry since iPhones and apps and social media and TV news tickers and the whole freaking wondrous techno show, before and through which we are now fashioned, are reducing our attention spans to zip. So we are in danger of getting caught in a loop: we fail to focus our attention, which makes us feel bored, which makes us watch a video of a cat playing the piano, which reduces our attention span further, which makes us feel more bored and ready to watch the cat playing the piano again. It is young people who are at greatest risk in all this. Older people, particularly if they have children, are too busy to be bored. Boredom of any kind would be a luxury.

    But young people? It is worth remembering that many of them don't even have a memory of a time before iPhones and social media and viral videos. Of a time, really not so long back, when there was basically just television, and if you turned it on and it was golf or The Waltons, you had no choice but to think of something else to do.

    The challenge for young people, and many of us, is to take on the somewhat counter-intuitive idea that the cure for boredom is not more and more stimulation, particularly if it's passive stimulation. Trying to beat boredom by sensory overload is self-defeating. As Eastwood says, ''boredom is like quicksand: the more we thrash around, the quicker we'll sink''.

    Sometimes we just need to sit with boredom, steep ourselves in it, even as this becomes harder and harder to do.

    (How to resist watching the video of a parrot dancing Gangnam Style?) For boredom, and I mean uninterrupted boredom, does have its uses. For one thing, true boredom is thought to be something of an evolutionary warning sign that we may have to change our lives in some way if we are to avoid worse ahead, such as depression. Boredom also allows space for thought, memory and introspection, and is believed to be a necessary element in creativity (''I like boring things,'' said Andy Warhol), as well as a spur for new ideas and fresh ways of seeing things. Some even believe boredom helps us put our existence into perspective.

    In his final novel, The Pale King, David Foster Wallace writes: ''It turns out that bliss - a second-by-second joy + gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious - lies on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom.'' OK, most of us won't want to follow boredom that far, whether there is bliss waiting somewhere beyond or not.

    But there is something in this thought that speaks to our manic times. Riding out old-time boredom may be boring, but what about trying to distract yourself moment to moment from every single instance of micro-boredom? That surely sounds toxic to no end. hendren global group

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