The BPS Research Digest reports on a study about boredom whose findings make a kind of intuitive sense to me. Researchers issued questionaires to students and found that those “who said they suffered from more boredom also tended to report difficulty identifying their emotions and being externally focused.” The researchers somewhat poetically explain the problems of looking to external stimuli to cure boredom: “Like the trap of quicksand, such thrashing only serves to strengthen the grip of boredom by further alienating us from our desire and passion, which provide compass points for satisfying engagement with life.” Looking for distractions only yields further distraction, more boredom. The psychology of this strikes me as correct, and I have argued before that consumer societies have to manufacture this state in its populace. Boredom has to be built in to consumer society’s products, and its discourse needs to continually reinforce the notion that we owe it to ourselves to be bored, lest we recognize the resources we have within ourselves. Boredom is a learned habit, not an accident of circumstances. Here’s what I wrote about it then:
Since we’re trained from childhood not to value the luxury of free thought, and since all initiative to think for ourselves and all cultural validation for autodidacticism has been effaced from the working world, we experience this erstwhile freedom to think undirected thoughts as boredom, as sullen blankness. Given this dire scenario, the culture industry’s primary function becomes one of habituating workers to their fate: to routinely expect boredom and to see the oscillation in and out of states of boredom as the only kind of joy. So accordingly, mass entertainments, with their interchangeable stories and their quick-cut edits and their rejection of complexity, carefully cultivate the short-attention span, continuing the cultural work initiated at the multiplex during the children’s movie. Concentration is counterproductive in a consumer, whereas boredom suits the consumer economy: incapable of forming deep attachments to cultural commodities and spurred by sublimated class envy, shoppers become perpetually restless for novelty, making serial purchases with spiraling frequency until the ever more tenacious habit of boredom renders them instantaneously empty upon possession. At that point, the act of acquisition is the only moment of pleasure, and one’s life becomes a perpetual buying spree.
How then do we get in touch with our emotions if consumer society conspires against us to induce alexithymia? Having recently seen David Lynch field questions about his TM practices and lulled by his repeated allusions to the ocean of bliss within, I wonder if meditation could form a bulwark against the hedonistic materialism’s snares, keeping us in a state of pristine emotional biofeedback. I don’t know. Meditiation seems kind of boring.
// Notes from the Road
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