Boredom– Killer of Innovation

March 30, 2011

Culture, History

The Old Geezer had a great blog post about boredom. He noted that in this modern world of electronics and gadgetry, some people still complain of boredom. Boredom was an infrequent condition for folks living in the “olden days,” as their lives were so filled with hard work that leisure time was scarce and precious. Up until recently, boredom has always had negative connotations, as being bored meant you weren’t working, and working was extremely important back then. As a teenager, I made the mistake of complaining to my grandmother “I’m bored.” She promptly dumped a boatload of chores for me to do.

Is boredom merely a plague of the modern era? Or is boredom more prevalent in wealthier societies? I did a little digging about boredom in history. Of course, this is not a comprehensive study– I’m too busy with work to dwell much on the subject of boredom! But it’s a good start to answering my questions about what boredom is, why it is, and what causes it.

“Boredom” comes from the root word “bore,” which, a few hundred years ago, was a description of a dull, tedious, annoying person in formal society. Think of the era of “Pride and Prejudice.”

Boredom: Sense of “be tiresome or dull” first attested 1768, a vogue word c.1780-81 according to Grose; possibly a figurative extension of “to move forward slowly and persistently,” as a boring tool does. From the Online Etymological Dictionary.

The first recorded use of the word boredom is in the novel Bleak House by Charles Dickens, written in 1852, in which it appears six times, although the expression to be a bore had been used in the sense of “to be tiresome or dull” since 1768. The French term for boredom, ennui, is sometimes used in English as well.

According to Dictionary.com, ennui is: a feeling of utter weariness and discontent resulting from satiety or lack of interest; boredom: The endless lecture produced an unbearable ennui.

I find that when I am very busy, I am more alert and more productive. Have you ever gone out to a store or restaurant during a slow time, and it seems that the service people are more careless, sloppier, or slower with their service than during busy times? My husband, who has worked many years in the service industry, noticed it. He always says when business is slow, so is service. It’s a psychological condition: people just slow down when they are not occupied, and become “bored.” Thus, their work suffers.

I don’t think human nature has changed at all over thousands of years, so I tend to think boredom is universal. The Egyptian Pharoah accused the enslaved Israelites of stirring up trouble because they were bored.

Exodus 5:17
But he said, “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the LORD.’

The word “idle” here is Hebrew “raw-phaw” which means “slackened,” “weakened,” “lazy,” or “slothful.”

Pharoah didn’t think the Israelites were working hard enough, so he piled on more work.

According to this site,

In 1926, after a study of factory workers, the British Medical Journal published that boredom was a form of mental fatigue caused by repetition and lack of interest in monotonous tasks….The first laboratory testing of boredom occurred in the late 1930’s and was then deduced to be a form of fatigue which was dissipated through the use of stimulants. In 1951 a book was published claiming that boredom was actually due to the repression of an individual’s natural drives and desires. After this date the research into boredom fell from grace and it wasn’t until 1986 that a psychologist developed the first full psychometric scale called the ‘Boredom Proneness Scale (BPS)’ as a method to measure boredom as an individual trait.

Some folks hail boredom as a wonderful way to rest and relax; others view it as a plague that stifles innovation and creativity (I tend to believe the latter). Some people tend to boredom more than others. Children in a passive environment (such as a public school setting where education is doled out in a cookie-cutter regimen) experience boredom; innovative workers stuck in a routine experience boredom. The push toward social engineering (where workers are mere cattle and exist only to keep the machine running) encourages boredom especially among creative people stuck in the “worker” classes.

It makes sense that electronic gadgets and toys do not help solve societal boredom. Think about when you were a kid, if you are older than 45 years old. Think about the toys children had 100 years ago. What kind of toys were children offered? Blocks, Lincoln Logs, a rag doll that didn’t talk or do anything…. what toys do kids have today? Remote control cars, buildable action figures like Bionicles, talking and walking dolls, etc. The main difference between toys of yesteryear and toys for modern kids is that older toys encouraged imagination and innovation. Today, toys simply entertain. They are constructed in a specific way or merely do a specific thing, and then…. that’s it. There’s no real creativity to the things we hand our kids today. No wonder they are bored. Gadgets (and TV and movies and music) should be tools that we use to improve or advance us spiritually, personally, or socially. But the gadgets have become mere entertainment, which leads to boredom, which stifles creativity and innovation. Human nature is always crying out for moremoremore! Objects only entertain for so long before boredom sets in. And are you bored by now, reading all this text? Did you skip sections?

To be honest, I am rarely bored. I was very bored as a young child and teenager. I read a lot of books to stave it off, but even that was boring after a while. I just didn’t have any incentive to DO anything. But then I became a born-again Christian, and my life has really changed. I’m much more motivated, much more curious about how and why things work. I think God cured me of boredom! LOL. And I am so busy. If I am not working, then I am creating more work for me to do. There’s always something to do, something to learn, something to think about. I see boredom as an enemy to my growth as a Christian.

How about you? Did you suffer from boredom as a child? Do you still? What helps? Do you enjoy boredom; do you think it’s a good condition?

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4 Responses to “Boredom– Killer of Innovation”

  1. Cathy Kennedy Says:

    This is an enjoyable post with some very good info. I don’t recall being bored as a kid, but I’m sure I had to have moments of it. Everyone does! Boredom does creep in periodically, but for the most part I’m too busy to get bored. The Bible teaches us keep our hands busy doing things we were taught which basically will keep us from being bored or from getting into trouble.

    Thanks for the education on boredom!

    ~Cathy Kennedy, Children’s Author
    The Tale of Ole Green Eyes

    Check out, Today’s Post

  2. The Other Alice Says:

    Oh, I read the whole thing! 🙂 Funny, tonight I said I was bored for the first time in a while. Actually my head hurt really good, the boys were preoccupied with electronics, and I couldn’t find anything to distract me from the pain– didn’t want to do anything productive! Boredom, as in having NOTHING that needs doing, is nice once in a while. 😉

  3. Rebecca Says:

    Hi Cathy! Interesting how you transitioned boredom with getting into trouble! I think part of the reason we get into trouble is because we are not actively involved in God’s work, or in any kind of work! Good point.

    Thanks for your comment. 🙂

  4. Rebecca Says:

    HI Alice. I’m sorry your head hurt 🙁

    Boredom is a little different than needing rest. You needed REST not boredom, me thinks. 😉 Boredom is intricately linked with malcontent.

    I’m glad you got the opportunity to relax, though. Hang in there, honey!