In a recent interview, actor and director Dhruv Sehgal spoke about how boredom is a distant feeling now. “I don’t get bored anymore—something I used to say with pride and now it’s a burden.” It got me thinking how the word ‘boredom’ seems to have disappeared from everyday conversation — it now comes with a familiarity that feels foreign. It’s been told not to sit with us for so long that it has camouflaged itself into doomscolling and reel-sharing. It’s there but people no longer have access to it.
We live in a world consumed by every bit of distraction aided by the digital revolution while hustle culture and productivity is force-fed by capitalism. As the pandemic forced slowness into our lives, the system is glitching and more people are exploring a cultural shift. But boredom still remains elusive.
Also read: The pandemic taught us the value of boredom
What is boredom? If you try dictionaries, many will just regurgitate the word with a verb (the state of being bored) or convince you that it’s the feeling linked with weariness, loss of interest, and dullness so you learn to think it’s something that has to be fixed, pushed away or dismissed. Anything that is not not valuable to a capitalistic society is often replaced by something shiny. With boredom, it is consumer capitalism.
With everything available as ready-to-use in our hands, it gives minimal opportunities for the brain to be without any stimuli. Consumer capitalism cannot tolerate boredom, Ian M. Buchanan wrote in a research article in 2017, The Disappearance of Boredom. He talks about how we have built a culture where people don’t know “how to amuse themselves with only our inner selves as company” and adds that “if we lose the art of boredom, then we lose our resistance to the intrusions of the present.”
For instance, waiting is no longer boring. Now, as Buchanan points out, airports have been transformed into malls to “envelop the traveller into a seamless bubble of consumption”. Today, a lazy day is about ‘Netflix and chill’ — a statement that's more like an advertisement. For breaks in between work, there is a constant flow of information available at hand with mobile phones equipped with every kind of distraction—from pimple-popping to Twitter wars.
So, has boredom disappeared? “On the contrary, it has increased,” Rinkle Jain, psychotherapist tells Lounge. “People feel it more than they used to but there is also a more intense desire to get rid of it.”
Over the years, there has been an overwhelming influx of options available for distraction, feeding people the constant need for stimulation, and guilt through comparison. “For instance, you feel like taking rest but almost reflexively pick up your phone. As you scroll to see endless posts about people doing this and that, it is bound to make you feel guilty while the feeling of having to hustle takes over. These take rest away from your body, leave your mind drained and make you feel anxious,” Jain explains. Boredom has been systematically exorcised by consumer capitalism since industrialization.
In the capitalist narrative, boredom is a major hurdle to satisfaction of happiness while it is also the capitalist system that provides the fuel for it. “This constitutes the basic paradox of consumer capitalism—it gets power from the very thing it vilifies,” Mariusz Finkielsztein writes in the research paper, Consumer Boredom: Boredom as a Subliminal Mood of Consumer Capitalism.
When boredom is portrayed as a lack of adventure or excitement—a mundane feeling that should be immediately replaced—people build an unhealthy relationship with it. Often boredom is also equated to a social position because those who are boring are never treated as part of a ‘cool gang.’
“The narrative that boredom is something we need to fix is a deeply problematic one. It’s important to acknowledge that it is an emotion that doesn’t have to be categorized into good or bad—which is often linked to choosing that feelings are comfortable or those that serve the hustle culture,” Jain explains.
It’s also important to understand that people feel boredom differently. For instance, boredom can be difficult to navigate for neurodivergent people if it is accompanied by feelings they don’t feel ready to engage with, making it difficult for them to not let it drown in readily available distractions. The one-dimensional view of boredom brings with it the danger of generalisation. “For neurodivergent people, boredom can be often painful as it’s something the very hyperactive brains might not be familiar with and it’s the one thing we run from” says Jain, who is also neurodivergent.
In a world that is rapidly adopting technological innovations that people may feel they can’t exist without, it’s crucial to understand why boredom is important. Like any emotion, boredom is meant to be acknowledged without the whisperings of guilt and productivity. “For neurodivergent people, it’s also important to check in and see if feels threatening and if so, gather some safety resources. You can try to just exist in boredom with a friend.”
People often recognise that they are distracting themselves when they approach boredom, but they don’t explore why. “When you don’t do anything, don’t respond to any stimuli thatyou let your body speak to you. It’s also when you access rest.”
Sehgal in the interview said that there is so constant stimulation that he is waiting for his mind to ask, ‘So, what’s up?’ I reflexively nodded along because, aren’t we all?
Also read: Can tragic optimism help you during difficult times?