Monday, January 6, 2014

On "we"

Feel free to ask my mother if you don't think this is true. She'll sigh and say "it was worse than that." The fact is, I, as a child, was bored. I had entire blocks of time when, as I would complain to my mother "I have NOTHING TO DO." I rarely complained that to my father because, somehow, he always found something for me to do and it usually involved cleaning something. He is a miracle worker like that.

So I would drag myself over to my mother who was involved in something unimportant. (It might have been doing the taxes, performing open heart surgery or composing an opera, but I could not fathom how it could be nearly as important as my complaint.) I sort of stood over her and said "Mom, I'm bored."

This was usually met by the kind of silence that only a mother can make. The kind that somehow conveys a mixture of "I'm sorry sweetie" and "why are you even here? I didn't birth you so you could hang around and pester me. We cut the cord, Jack, now vamoose." So I stood there, waiting for the proper response of "Bored? That's horrible. Allow me to entertain you." That didn't happen so I repeated, in a slightly more nasal voice, "Mooooom. I said I'm bored."

At this point she looked up slowly, sizing me up, I think, to see how you smacks it would take to get me to leave and whether those smacks would get in the way of the surgery she was performing. She measured her words and finally said "Go find something to do." Sage words. I took the implicit threat and counted my toes, yet again (this took up to 3 hours as I have particularly tricky toes, but it has made me expert at counting to 12.5).

I rarely have this conversation with my children. I have discovered that they are rarely bored and I am trying to figure out if this is a good thing or not. Yes, they stay out of my hair (often found in piles on the floor) but they cannot cope with the prospect of not being entertained for any length of time. The internet, and the proliferation of devices allowing access to said internet gives them a constant stream of sensory input.

Do they ever have to be alone? Certainly not -- they can make phone calls, Skype calls, online conferences and video chats with any friend at any time for free. One of the reasons I had no friends was that phone calls cost too much when I was a boy. If you wanted to talk to a friend from summer camp, you had to book time on the long distance wire and mortgage your house. Family in Israel? It was cheaper and easier to swim there. And we had no answering machines, caller ID, call waiting or texting. If your friend was in the bathroom and the phone rang, no one got it and he had no idea who called so you didn't get a call back. Done.

And when I had "nothing to do" I could always pick up a book. Just some random book from a book shelf, and look through it. I amazed my kid yesterday by remembering the human-powered aircraft "Gossamer Albatross"." Why did I know it? Because I had a chance to be bored as a child. I had time to absorb stuff that I bumped into. Now? If my kid has a moment during which she is bored, she just loads up season 3 of some Scandinavian TV show I have never heard of and watches it. Does she look through a book shelf picking things at random? No, she "follows" some celebrity and exchanges messages with other young ladies similarly enslaved by the vapidity of a culture of technological interaction. Shooting message content at other anonymous avatars and competing to be the first and best at what no one cares about anyway.

Is there down time? Sort of. My religion imposes electronics-free times and my children have to interact with peers face-to-face, but they rarely are bored. I didn't just learn to play solitaire (4 or 5 different games) but I learned to flick playing cards across a room. I learned to shoot rubber bands and fly paper airplanes and read anything to kill a few hours. I stumbled upon more information and fell into more imaginary worlds than the internet could ever spoon feed me, and it all stuck with me because I wasn't expecting it.

We are planning a vacation and I have to warn my children that there may not be wifi so they might not be able to connect to everything at all hours. The horrors.

Unplug. Get bored. Let boredom be the mother of innovation. Amuse yourself. Discover what other have to be told. Walk somewhere. Smell something. Be surprised. Do nothing for 15 minutes. It isn't the end of the world. It might be the beginning of a new one, though.

I have to post this on the internet and my mom taught me all this with just a look.


  1. When I was young there wasn't even a Gossamer Albatros. I was so bored that I don't even remember what happened. Probably nothing. And even if there was something, I never found out about it.

  2. Dear Robot,

    You're welcome,


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