The Art of Boredom Part 2

When you’re bored, time moves slowly. In fact the German word for boredom is “langeweile” when translated directly means “long while”.

Gayatri Devi, Associate Professor of English at Lock Haven University, Pennsylvania, argues that slow-moving time can feel torturous for people who can’t feel peaceful alone in their minds. This suggests that understanding how to deal with being bored is so crucial.

He states that we should lean into boredom and observe it in order to understand how the mind responds. He believes this form of metathinking can help us overcome boredom while learning about oneself in the process. A strategy for this would be not replacing boredom with work or fun or habits or a screen.

Devi says that “Boredom is the last privilege of a free mind”. Instead of looking for distractions, the state of boredom allows one the right to practice judgment, discernment and taste. So in other words, trust when boredom speaks to you and instead of avoiding it, heed its messages, because they’ll keep you true to yourself.

While researching for this article I had a response from a School SENCo stating that one of the reasons she felt students may appear bored during lessons and might yawn in class is because they were on IPads or phones well into the night. In other words, they were not actually bored but tired.

And she may well be right but this also got me thinking about what it is that a screen can do that offers such a high level of interest even when that person may be tired?

This has puzzled teachers and parents for many years especially those with a poor attention span including children with ADHD traits who can’t sit still in class for more than 5 minutes in front of a teacher but can sit in front of a computer screen for hours on end.

The link between ADHD and boredom is well established with the key symptoms listed as Inattention, Impulsivity and Hyperactivity. These often manifest themselves as distraction and sometimes disruption in many classroom settings.

So the question is, what does a screen provide to be able to achieve such a level of attention and stimulate interest for those with poor attention skills as well as having significant issues with boredom?

Some options may include:                                                                      

  • Most individuals respond well to an individualised or 1 -1 setting
  • Attention is focused on the screen
  • It is a multi-sensory experience
  • Non-threatening: can retry problems, constant feedback and reinforcement
  • Impersonal: computer doesn’t yell or have favourites
  • Variety of presentation; attend to novel stimuli
  • A person can control pace, flexible: programmed to do things
  • Rapid assessment
  • Game like approach: challenge

Of course this is not to say we should use screens to reduce boredom but maybe what can we learn from them?

Most people would not argue with individual attention especially if they were doing something which was perceived as fun and multi-sensory however there is also an element of control with a computer or tablet which is not always possible when with a person. This is of course true in some games or films being watched but these days many games are played in a social context and communication is through social media so perhaps this issue is not valid.

It suddenly occurred to me that maybe screens may being used to cover the fact that people are being denied the opportunity to be bored. This I think is an issue we definitely need to address as being bored is vital to developing new ways of thinking to generate interest in other issues and stimulate innovation and invention in other activities.

Perhaps the signals that we are receiving from children who look or tell us that they are bored are really telling us that they actually want to think or act in a different direction from that in which are taking them.

So in summary instead of preventing boredom maybe we should be actively promoting it perhaps in a structured format both at school and at home even if this does not make you the most popular teacher or parent on the planet.

If we don’t lean into boredom and embrace it we will I think completely lose the art of thinking for ourselves and the world about us perhaps for a “long while”

Fin 13/05/20