Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Boredom and How Entertainment Changed our Lives

The onslaught of boredom upon society has drastically increased as a result of our changing lifestyles brought about by technology and other factors. In my early adolescent years, I don't think if we ever screamed, “I am bored!” There was so much to be done that the thought never even entered our minds. By then, we had read so many of the classic novels, played so many chess games, sang so many Beatle songs with the guitar and played so much basketball that studying become a mere respite to having fun. Or was that how we unconsciously avoided boredom?

TV was only entering the consciousness of people and its distractive power, especially upon young students like us, was not considered serious. Besides, we only watched TV at our neighbor’s house on Friday nights (Dan dan dan, dara da dan dan dan…. Combat!) and occasionally on Saturday afternoons (reruns of black-&-white FPJ and Erap movies). When we finally bought a TV set, only two or three channels competed for our attention. And our parents always had their way when it came to study time and TV time.

In short, we watched TV not to intentionally kill boredom (that is, to avoid study) but to experience the new thrill and recreation it offered beyond the other enjoyable things we had going on in school and in our neighborhood. In terms of time, TV was more of an exception than a rule. That pales in comparison, however, to the amount of time many kids today spend playing games in the computer or with the Game Boy. (Ironically, TV has become an exception to these kids!) They won’t even budge to eat meals, talk to their parents or play with the neighbors. In fact, their idea of going out with friends is to play PC games in small, stuffy Internet cafĂ© where other cursing kids spend hours and money fighting virtual criminals or villains. Families spend a lot for expensive TV sets; but that expense is nothing compared to the cost of sustaining kids’ hunger for computer games. Boredom brings big business, mind you!

By the time these kids reach twelve or thirteen, they have become expert boredom/study-killers who spend more time avoiding “down-time” or doing nothing at all cost. Watching TV has become such a commonplace activity for many that we multi-task it with other things such as computing, eating, doing housework and, well, doing nothing. We can define boredom then like this: When you are forced to watch TV or do some other thing because you don’t want to be caught doing nothing.)

Some adolescents (who have no PCs at home) avoid staying at home altogether except to eat and to sleep. Their library and their playing field is the PC. That is where they do their research for homework, their readings and their recreation. As such, home has become a totally boring place to be in for many of these youth. If not at the mall, the cyber-cafe or some other hang-out, going out with friends is the ultimate daily escape. The general lack of direction or purpose for many of us has led to the explosion of varieties of eye-catching and time-consuming entertainment. The arcade is one an example which is also ear-piercing and cash-strapping. All because of boredom. Or maybe just the lack of someone sensible to talk to.

In my youth, friends were there to talk to and interact with face to face, not side-by-side in cafes or virtually on the monitor. (Alright, we also spent much time playing billiards and pinball in the arcade. But such games we never had to do at home or in school then. Today, you can play almost anything anywhere on the PC.) They were living bodies you could touch and even embrace as you walked, sang or ate with. The attention that TVs, cellphones, iPods and laptops nowadays require from many of us inside or outside the home did not exist then. Our close friendship or what our social science teacher labeled as our “clique” provided us with the natural hunger for companionship. It kept us sane through adolescence. (Pity then those kids or adults of today who have no real, constant friends except the PC or the TV. Now that is real boredom.)

Yes, to a certain extent, we felt down when we were away from each other or when we had to sit in class listening to lectures during sleepy hours. Studying was just a chore like cleaning our room or washing dishes at home. Perhaps, study can be more engaging by making subjects more attractive and entertaining through multi-media tools, like some schools are already doing. But that would bring tuition fees skyrocketing, if they haven’t already. Technology does have benefits if used properly.

And so, while technology has changed many aspects of life in our culture-crushing generation, we still have to deal with the natural tendency to enter the “devil's workshop” -- idleness, that is, which is a twin-brother of boredom. Unconsciously, we have developed the habit of whiling away our time, thinking we are really doing something. Hence, today, we watch too much TV and so many DVDs rather than tell stories to one another. Perhaps, because we don’t read books that much anymore, we have nothing more to talk about except what we read in the news or, for the sentimental middle-aged, our rehashed memories from our youth. (Such an exercise is the best thing that can happen at that age.) Or is it because we have read so many books that we assume everyone else had read them, too? Like watching movies or TV, has reading books become just another reason to avoid boredom?

Today, also, we listen more than we create music in our hearts. With so much music in the air and so many music-makers around, we have surrendered the former right of every individual to use the natural gift of singing and expressing our souls through it. Notice how many of the new artists merely revive old songs. A new style of singing or playing may bring some freshness; but, that may be just a temporary respite from the boredom that these artists and producers are experiencing. For lack of a fresh, original and consuming passion for new possibilities, music has become a mere moneymaking industry and not a culture-enhancing or soul-building activity.

Today, we eat selfishly rather than feed others in need. Our desire to satisfy our stomachs or our senses, in general, has resulted from the boredom that we are constantly avoiding. We want to eat exciting food as much as we want to feel exciting entertainment, relief or pampering for our eyes, our ears and even for our noses and skins. And so it goes for our deeper biological desires. Advertising a car, a deodorant, clothes and health must require a seductive approach. The old, wholesome and boring ways no longer bring in sales. As a result, we have become people-pleasers or self-pleasers – no, body-pleasers -- rather than people-carers or selfless persons. We want to get rather than give.

Finally, today, we have ended up choosing the bad or the evil rather than the good. We have more drugstores and hospital because we have acquired so many unhealthy habits and various diseases rather than gaining general health. We have polluted the environment in our efforts to satisfy our economic needs rather than in preserving the natural qualities of the land. We have pursued material wealth rather than enhancing our spiritual heritage.

Boredom or what we may generalize as “not knowing what good or better thing we can do now” has become one of society’s most pernicious diseases. We have slowly allowed the wonder-workers or false-prophets of this materialistic world to hypnotize us into a lifestyle that surrenders the essential needs of humans for artificial wants. We mentioned genuine friendship or real interaction. Virtual interaction may have its benefits and so do some computer games (solitaire for the lonely still and some mental games for the fading thinker); but nothing can take the place of face-to-face conversation and feet-on-the-ground sports to refresh the body and soul.

So many lonely souls who walk past us would have been touched by a sincere smile or an encouraging word if we spent more time thinking of others rather than how lonely or bored we felt. So many sick persons would have been healed or revived by our prayers or financial help if we did our part in the rewarding task of restoring the world to God. And so many poor people would have been fed or clothed by our small gifts if we pooled them all together.

Kill boredom? No, that is for stressed-out people who have not found inner peace. It is better to do the good and the right when you feel like you have nothing else to do. Or, find a better and more fruitful thing to do than what you want to do now. And if you really have nothing else to do at night, please, please, turn off the PC or the TV, go to sleep and save electricity. As we said, it is the right thing to do and also good for your health.