On boredom

While I was waiting for the train with Rahul, the conversation petered out, and he started calling people on his cellphone. After he hung up, he started talking about how it was nice to have friends whom he could call when he got bored. Now, the word “bored” always triggers alarms in my head. I take boredom to be a personal choice, at least for people with Swarthmore-quality brains. I feel you should have everything you need to keep yourself entertained, if not in your own head, then certainly between yourself and another person. If you’re bored, you must just not be looking hard enough.

“Uh-uh,” I said to Rahul, “Real men don’t get bored.” At that point I produced a pencil and paper and introduced him to 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe, which can become strategically challenging when you use a 4x4x4 board. Rahul beat me handily a couple times once he understood the game, although he spent much of his time trying to visualize the cube in his head and failing because it was too late at night.

I like games like that, which you can carry around in your head. I like the feeling of just unpacking from my brain whatever I need. This is one reason I like Adam Lizzi’s new board game he just invented, called “Influence”… although he intends to develop a real board for it sooner or later, it’s easy enough to draw the board as a series of dots representing hexagons. Also, since each piece is placed once and never moved, it’s easy to play with pencil and paper, as opposed to Chess… you just fill in each space. If you’re curious to play test a brand new strategy game, just come talk to me or Adam.

That’s part of why I like open source software, the idea of having everything I need with me, even if I don’t pack any bags… you can just give me a blank computer, and as long as I have an internet connection, I can suck down whatever I need to be productive. What’s funny is that this independence (“I have everything I need”) is based on interdependence… the free software community gives me this freedom. If software patents or Microsoft’s machinations somehow were to kill off the community that supports me, then I’d be screwed. (Yes, I use a Mac, but almost all of the software besides the OS that I use is open source.) I suppose that’s the way it always is, but it seems to say something deep to me….

2 thoughts on “On boredom

  1. i agree, but i think boredom is also vital and and should not be ignored. productivity is great, but what makes it good is times of goofing off. an up-down, even slightly manic-and now i’m gonna crash lifestyle works for many of us.

    as my dad says… “sometimes i sits and thinks. and sometimes i just sits.”

    • Well, I think that time off is different from boredom. Simply sitting and thinking every now and then is vital, and I do that frequently when I am traveling. However, I do not find it boring. Boredom implies that you want to do something, but you can’t think of anything interesting to do. That’s why I think it’s avoidable. Either you’re not creative enough to come up with something interesting, or you’re too good at rejecting potentially interesting possibilities (i.e. nothing satisfies you). The old saw that “only boring people get bored” is somewhat true… if you are a person who is regularly bored, that means that you find it difficult to get interested in things, and that you can’t invent things to interest yourself when the world around you gets boring.

      Which is not to say that intelligent people aren’t susceptible to boredom when the environment is boring, I found many of my classes in elementary school to be extremely boring. However, I wasn’t usually bored, because I would daydream and look out the window and find something very interesting to think about, even if it weren’t related to the task at hand 😛

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