Thursday, August 19, 2010

Boredom

Has ADHD become the new normal? Adam J. Cox in The New Atlantis, "The Case for Boredom," describes a condition hardly limited to adolescents:
.... The adolescent mind is nowadays so hyper-stimulated that the absence of stimulation — boredom — is unsettling, while the chaos of constant connection is soothingly familiar. A languishing teenager feels irritable and instinctively knows how to rev up: go online, turn on the TV, call someone, text. Continuous stimulation and communication comprise the new normal. It is a state of being that conflates sensory pleasure with happiness. Meanwhile, the gaps between moments of heightened stimulation have been shrunk, and are on the verge of disappearing altogether. ....

As the synaptic mindscape of daily life becomes increasingly marked by peaks and the disappearance of valleys, we might reasonably expect to see some signs of distress among the hyper-stimulated. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, we are witnessing an adaptation so massive and rapid that it raises the question of where disorder really lies: when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that many millions of Americans meet the diagnostic criteria for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, this putative disorder is arguably no longer a disorder at all — it’s just the way we are. .... [more]
About which Alan Jacobs comments:
“The Case for Boredom” isn't really a case for boredom as such, but for pauses — for moments, especially in the lives of young people, when external stimuli cease long enough for some actual thought to arise, or contemplation to occur, or (mirabile dictu) mere silence to settle in for a time.

In Boredom: the Literary History of a State of Mind, Patricia Meyer Spacks explains that boredom as such is a relatively recent invention, from the eighteenth century at the latest. Before that we had melancholy (which was a kind of affliction of the spirit) and, further back still, acedia (which was a sin). What’s distinctive about boredom is that we don't see it as either a condition of our own selves or a sin, but rather something that just happens to us. When we’re bored, we don't think there’s anything wrong with us: we think the world is at fault. Stupid old world — it doesn't interest me. And interesting me is the world’s job. [emphasis added]
Constant external stimuli aren't necessary if you are capable of thought, or reflection, or, perhaps, prayer. The alternative to boredom needn't be "continuous stimulation and communication."

The New Atlantis » The Case for Boredom, Text Patterns: boredom
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