Inner Space
Hi, I’m Diana Demco and this is the Inner Space newsletter about my reflections on living an examined life. If you're new, you can find old editions here. You're getting this email because you signed up on my website. If you'd like to unsubscribe, click here.
What's your relationship to boredom? When was the last time you let yourself be bored?

Boredom, also referred to as apathy or by the fancy French term "ennui," manifests itself when one is uninterested, lacking motivation or excitement. It's a state of mind that arises when mental or physical stimulation is absent or not at a desired level.

There is a debate among philosophers on whether boredom is a modern phenomenon, or whether it affected humans from the Ancient times. The latter theory may be supported by an inscription on a graffiti wall in Pompeii, that reads:
Wall! I wonder that you haven’t fallen down in ruin, when you have to support all the boredom of your inscribers.

Or we can go even further back in time, to the beginning of the world. According to Kierkegaard:
The gods were bored so they created man. Adam was bored because he was alone, so Eve was created. From that time boredom entered the world and grew in exact proportion to the growth of population.

The same sentiment is echoed in Nietzsche's writings.

We can also ask whether boredom has always been felt in the same way across time. Maybe different societies throughout history have experienced this state of mind, but in distinct ways.

A school of thought that believes boredom has intensified during the 18th century points out as evidence the fact that the word "boredom" has not appeared in the English language until at least 1755. The reason why it became more relevant in this time period is due to the increase in leisure and the rise of concern for individual rights.

Kierkegaard made a distinction between boredom and idleness:
Idleness is not evil; indeed, one can say that any human who lacks appreciation of it proves he has not raised himself to the level of humanity.

Boredom has many dimensions, depending on the type of emotions it produces. Its byproducts can be restlessness, impatience, or existential dread. Boredom can swing between utter apathy, irritability or even violence. Interestingly, some researchers associate boredom with a milder form of disgust.

But why is boredom so unbearable? Kierkegaard argued that it's "the root of all evil." Well, for starters, it forces you to face your human condition: finite, threatened by nihilism and meaninglessness, fragile. We're confronted by existential anxiety. Questions like "what am I doing with my life?" or "Is [current thing I'm pursuing] worth it?" might arise.

It's important to note that boredom is sometimes associated with depression. Others, such as Henry David Thoreau, believe that it manifests in people who lack intellectual prowess and can't entertain themselves.

As dull it is to experience boredom, as rich and multifaceted is the discussion about it.

I believe, in small doses, boredom is necessary. It leads to sparks of creativity and it has the power to show us the nature of our minds. An examination into what we find boring can reveal important truths about ourselves.

I've seen how thirsty we are for consuming (new) information. At a certain point, it does not even matter what we're "ingesting." It just has to be something. We resist the idea of being alone with our thoughts. Time that is not filled with a stream of stimuli seems to border on the infinite, dragging on at an intolerable pace.

Mark Fisher defines boredom this way:
Being bored is simply a consequence of your temporal removal from "the Matrix" of texting, watching YouTube or consuming other types of media.

I've noticed that being exposed to the same stimulus over and over again has a numbing effect and we don't derive any sort of pleasure from it anymore. Nevertheless, we choose that over the pit of boredom.

There could be a lot more I could say about this emotion, but I don't want to be a bore. So I'll close off by inviting you to think of the last time you were "bored to death" and consider what got you in that state. And what resulted out of it.

Timeless Content

How to Ask Useful Questions
Josh Kaufman | 3 minute read
The premise is simple: if you want better answers, learn to ask better questions. This short article by business author Josh Kaufman teaches you how to ask for advice, help, information (and more) in a clear and concise manner.

Tool for Thought

Do Nothing for 2 Minutes

This week's invitation is to do nothing for 2 minutes. This simple website features a 2 minute timer set against a serene ocean view. If you touch your mouse or keyboard, the timer resets. You lose. The premise is straightforward, but you may find the task more difficult than it appears. Give it a try. See what it's like.

Picture of the Week

Architecture details.

Quote I'm reflecting on

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still
for once on the face of the earth,
let's not speak in any language;
let's stop for a second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about...
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with
Now I'll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.
(Keeping Quiet by Pablo Neruda)

Questions for you to ponder

When was the last time you let boredom just be - without trying to get rid of it?
Thank you for reading.

Until next time,
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