A Serious Problem for Civilization: Boredom

By | July 24, 2017 | 0 Comments

These words were painted on a wall. But rather than shrugging them off as just graffiti, we should consider the message: the remedy for boredom is to do something bad. How many problems are caused by people who agree?

● How many people fail to reach their potential because they are too bored to stay in school or at a job?

● How many marriages break up from the results of boredom?

● How many people overeat or use alcohol to excess to relieve boredom?

● How many people use legal or illegal drugs for the same purpose?

● How much dangerous, criminal, or terrorist activity is induced by a need for “highs” to relieve boredom?

I grew up with storytelling, books, and radio, which require imagination and patience. A children’s radio show required me to spend a quarter-hour sitting still and using my imagination. I still find it difficult to put a book down in mid-chapter. My family watched TV together, and the program was selected by consensus. Changing channels required getting up and going to the set, and few channels were available, so I usually watched whatever it was to conclusion.

Things have changed. Remote controls make changing the many channels easy, so I “channel surf” whenever the program grows the least bit tedious. I spend hours daily on the Internet. I still read books and magazines, but my attention span is shorter than it was, and I barely tolerate long paragraphs.

Today’s children read less and listen to radio less than I did. TV teaches them to consider social and political questions in a superficial and subjective way, emphasizing feelings rather than facts. Many kids have their own TV and spend hours at video games. Any tool can be misused, but it requires effort to waste hours in a library, and no effort at all to do so at a computer.

Films too have changed. Special effects, often violent and gory, take the place of plot and character development. I still watch old films on video, but even the classics seem slow, though I grew up with them. If fast-paced action has shortened my attention span, how much greater is the effect on a young person?

Why is attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder becoming more common? Perhaps we diagnose ADHD too freely, and a child who would formerly be called high-spirited is now burdened with this diagnosis. Yet many schools with “zero tolerance” for drugs administer addictive drugs to many students, mainly boys – a glaring contradiction that goes unnoticed.

● Would I have been diagnosed with ADHD if I spent early childhood watching violent cartoons, violent dramas, and violent newscasts? Would I have been put on drugs if I spent much of later childhood playing violent video games?

● Would I be as appreciative of natural beauty if I wore earphones as my family walked through a park, and then played video games while we ate our picnic lunch?

● Would I be as thoughtful if I had no silent time?

● Could I supply a context for current events if TV taught me to see them as brief, eye-catching, but unrelated fragments?

● Would I be as tolerant of boredom if I were accustomed to TV in waiting rooms, restaurants, and even gas stations?

● How long would my attention span be if I grew up changing channels at will?

● How patient would I be if I were habituated to changing my reality whenever it became tedious?

Would I be open to the problems of others, if I had been brought up to believe that I was entitled to be amused? How much violence is caused by persons who never learned the patience to handle boredom, much less frustration or annoyance? How many family, career, and societal problems are caused by these factors?

Would I be as observant of the world, or as grounded in reality, if I had played video games while I was driven places as a youngster? Could I distinguish clearly between the sometimes-dull real world and the intense electronic images? Would I prefer the images and try to make the world resemble them?

Victims of crime or natural disasters often say that at first they remained immobile, as if they were watching the event on TV. Perhaps similar feelings of unreality allow susceptible persons to commit crimes. We should consider the possibility that habitual electronic amusement has moral as well as emotional and intellectual implications.

In baseball, a home run used to cause excitement, but now it is accentuated by fireworks. Professional wrestling fans used to be amused by weird costumes, but now sound-and-light shows must be added. When these no longer excite, will gladiatorial combats be reintroduced? Oh wait, we already have cage fighting.

Incessant sensory input may be addicting. Addiction has two major characteristics: withdrawal symptoms and tolerance. If nothing was happening when I was a child, I observed my surroundings, thought, or whistled. (When did you last hear anyone whistle?) But if I were habituated to continual auditory and visual stimulation, I might have become bored and agitated when the stimulation was withdrawn.

Tolerance means that increasing doses are needed to produce the same effect. What would I have done if violent video games, ubiquitous TV, and deafening rap music no longer excited me? I hope the values I had been taught would restrain me, but what if I had not been taught these values?

If kids were taught that they were put on earth for a purpose, they would be less likely to react badly to boredom, just as hikers are less likely to become lost if they aim for a distant landmark. Boredom may reflect not only emotional and intellectual emptiness, but spiritual emptiness as well. The young and not-so-young may try to fill their emptiness with what popular culture provides. We would do well to furnish more healthful fare for their minds and spirits.

Books, radio programs, and films of the past often included violence. But the violence was muted, and the conflict was usually between good and evil. There were several shootings in “High Noon,” but the audience never saw blood and brains splattering, and the moral lesson was clear: The lawman stayed to do his duty while cowards hid.

In contrast, blood and brains splatter freely in today’s films and video games, but the violence often lacks any moral content. Police are trained with video games emphasizing “shoot–don’t shoot” scenarios, where criminals and hostages are mingled to ensure that only the criminals are shot. But many commercial video games have only “shoot” scenarios, training users to kill anything that moves.

Is it surprising that kids are desensitized to violence, as well as accustomed to excitement of the worst type? Advertisers spend billions to influence us to use their products. It is naive to assume that a deluge of violent words and images may not be equally effective in altering the behavior of the most impressionable.

Most kids are exposed to alcohol, but only a minority become alcoholics. Similarly, most kids are exposed to violent films and video games, but only a few become killers. We do not ban alcohol, but we do try to keep it away from kids. We should do the same with violent images. In this way, we may prevent the most susceptible from being damaged, and we surely will improve the environment of all the rest.

God’s world is too wonderful for us to be bored even for a minute, but kids are no longer taught to be grateful to be alive in it. We now raise children with remote-controlled TV, violent computer games, rock videos, and incessant stimulation instead of storytelling, books, radio, and love ballads. Can these changes have no effect at all?

Regrettably, an “adrenalin rush” is more likely to result from doing bad than from doing good. Boredom may be an underrated cause of behavior that is dangerous to oneself or others. An upbringing that makes people susceptible to being easily bored may have far-reaching destructive effects. Impatience plus lack of moral values can be an explosive mixture.

Contact: dstol@prodigy.net. You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.


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