From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
- "There is nothing they won't do to raise the standard of boredom" --Guy Debord
- "Boredom is just the reverse side of fascination: both depend on being outside rather than inside a situation, and one leads to the other." --Arthur Schopenhauer
Boredom is a condition characterized by perception of one's environment as dull, tedious, and lacking stimuli. There is an inherent anxiety in boredom; people will expend considerable effort to prevent or remedy it, yet in many circumstances it is accepted as an inevitable suffering to be endured. A common way to escape boredom is through creative thoughts or daydreaming.
The first record of the word boredom is in the novel Bleak House, by Charles Dickens, written in 1852, although the expression to be a bore had been used in the sense of "to be tiresome or dull" since 1768.
Time often seems to move more slowly to someone who experiences boredom; this results from the way in which the human mind measures the passage of time, combined with the infrequency of events perceived as notable.
Boredom is a condition characterized by perception of one's environment as dull, tedious, and lacking in stimulation. This can result from leisure and a lack of aesthetic interests. Labor, however, and even art may be alienated and passive, or immersed in tedium. There is an inherent anxiety in boredom; people will expend considerable effort to prevent or remedy it, yet in many circumstances, it is accepted as suffering to be endured. Common passive ways to escape boredom are to sleep or to think creative thoughts (daydream). Typical active solutions consist in an intentional activity of some sort, often something new, as familiarity and repetition lead to the tedious.
Boredom also plays a role in existentialist thought. In contexts where one is confined, spatially or otherwise, boredom may be met with various religious activities, not because religion would want to associate itself with tedium, but rather, partly because boredom may be taken as the essential human condition, to which God, wisdom, or morality are the ultimate answers. Boredom is in fact taken in this sense by virtually all existentialist philosophers as well as by Schopenhauer.
Heidegger wrote about boredom in two texts available in English, in the 1929/30 semester lecture course The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, and again in the essay What is Metaphysics? published in the same year. In the lecture, Heidegger included about 100 pages on boredom, probably the most extensive philosophical treatment ever of the subject. He focused on waiting at train stations in particular as a major context of boredom. In Kierkegaard's remark in Either/Or, that "patience cannot be depicted" visually, since there is a sense that any immediate moment of life may be fundamentally tedious.
Blaise Pascal in the Pensées discusses the human condition in saying "we seek rest in a struggle against some obstacles. And when we have overcome these, rest proves unbearable because of the boredom it produces", and later states that "only an infinite and immutable object – that is, God himself – can fill this infinite abyss."
Without stimulus or focus, the individual is confronted with nothingness, the meaninglessness of existence, and experiences existential anxiety. Heidegger states this idea nicely: "Profound boredom, drifting here and there in the abysses of our existence like a muffling fog, removes all things and men and oneself along with it into a remarkable indifference. This boredom reveals being as a whole." Arthur Schopenhauer used the existence of boredom in an attempt to prove the vanity of human existence, stating, "...for if life, in the desire for which our essence and existence consists, possessed in itself a positive value and real content, there would be no such thing as boredom: mere existence would fulfil and satisfy us."
Erich Fromm and other thinkers of critical theory speak of boredom as a common psychological response to industrial society, where people are required to engage in alienated labor. According to Fromm, boredom is "perhaps the most important source of aggression and destructiveness today." For Fromm, the search for thrills and novelty that characterizes consumer culture are not solutions to boredom, but mere distractions from boredom which, he argues, continues unconsciously. Above and beyond taste and character, the universal case of boredom consists in any instance of waiting, as Heidegger noted, such as in line, for someone else to arrive or finish a task, or while one is travelling somewhere. The automobile requires fast reflexes, making its operator busy and hence, perhaps for other reasons as well, making the ride more tedious despite being over sooner.
In Chapter 18 of the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1854–1900), the character Lord Henry Wotton says to a young Dorian Gray: "The only horrible thing in the world is ennui, Dorian. That is the one sin for which there is no forgiveness." John Sebastian, Iggy Pop, the Deftones, Buzzcocks, and Blink-182 have all written songs with boredom mentioned in the title. Other songs about boredom and activities people turn to when bored include Green Day's song "Longview", System of a Down's "Lonely Day", and Bloodhound Gang's "Mope". Douglas Adams depicted a robot named Marvin the Paranoid Android whose boredom appeared to be the defining trait of his existence in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
The 1969 Vocational Guidance Counsellor sketch on Monty Python's Flying Circus established a lasting stereotype of accountants as boring. The Yellow Pages used to carry an entry under Boring, "See civil engineers" (referring to the "tunnelling" meaning), but this was changed in 1996 to "See sites exploration."