Not enough boredom … or leisure

Not enough boredom … or leisure

My liturgy and sacraments professor in college, Fr. Giles Dimock, OP, used to bemoan the lack of silence in our daily lives. We move from noisy homes and offices—many people leave the TV on in he background as they move about doing other things— to cars that have their radio on already when we turn then on. He made these remarks in relation to the need for moments of silence during the Mass, saying that at times the silence was almost as important as what was said.

Looks like the secular world is beginning to see what effect a world with constant stimulation is becoming.

Increasingly, these empty moments are being saturated with productivity, communication, and the digital distractions offered by an ever-expanding array of slick mobile devices. A few years ago, cellphone maker Motorola even began using the word “microboredom” to describe the ever-smaller slices of free time from which new mobile technology offers an escape. “Mobisodes,” two-minute long television episodes of everything from “Lost” to “Prison Break” made for the cellphone screen, are perfectly tailored for the microbored. Cellphone games are often designed to last just minutes — simple, snack-sized diversions like Snake, solitaire, and Tetris. Social networks like Twitter and Facebook turn every mundane moment between activities into a chance to broadcast feelings and thoughts; even if it is just to triple-tap a keypad with the words “I am bored.”


Are we oversaturated with communication? On the one hand, while some bemoan the isolation caused by hordes of iPod-wearing commuters on buses and trains, all caught up in their own aural worlds, on the other hand, it’s not like commuting before iPods was a gabfest. Talking to strangers on the T was cause for people to sidle away from you warily. (Maybe that’s just the big city.)

So, I’m not sure I agree with the writer’s assertion that “boredom” is a good thing, per se. Maybe it’s a problem with the word. It’s not boredom that we need, but leisure. We need to turn away from the world for a time and recollect, re-create. We open ourselves in a conversation with God, by turning away form distractions. We retreat.

Compare this with the modern vacation, tied to the office via Blackberry and laptop so that you’re never really disconnected. And if it’s not work, it’s a video game or a music player or some other gadget or gizmo or television or something. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, perhaps less the worst, but not as good as the best.

But my dream vacation, the one I bring to mind whenever I sit back and contemplate, would take me far away from all that: a ship of sail, a deep blue sea, sun and sand, my family surrounding me, and no clock, no cares, no distractions. Just time to live in the moment, a preview of the beatific life of the eternal now that awaits us in heaven.

As much as I enjoy gadgets and gizmos and the great river of information that flows past my screen and over my iPod every day, I do love to unplug once in a while and get away. Mmmm, maybe it’s time to start planning our summer vacation.


  • LOL – that can so be me. I am someone who can do things with noise in the background and so often choose to do them with noise in the background. I wrote most of my master’s thesis with headphones on.

    However, since Cecilia has become noisier and louder and Felicity can now join in, I find myself turning as much off as possible during their naps and just enjoying some peace and quiet while I try to catch up on things they kept me from doing while they were awake. Funny the ways children change you.

  • It is very possible to return to a quieter existence.  Most of my car travel is with the radio turned off.  Occasionally I put on the “classical” station, but most of the time it’s turned off.  I don’t watch television, don’t own an ipod, blackberry, palm pilot, or any other of those electronic gadgets.  My cell phone is for emergency use and is turned off most of the time (I go for days and forget I never turned it back on after having turned it off for Mass).  Being single, I come home from work to a silent apartment, where I eat dinner and read or do needle-work before bed.  We don’t have to be plugged in all the time.  It’s a choice.  Now wouldn’t it be nice if we could have even one Sunday Mass at which not a single cell phone “rings”?!  Despite the announcement before each Mass to “silence all cell phones and pagers,” I can’t remember the last time I attended Mass and didn’t hear a cell phone go off.

  • I find myself increasingly stressed out by noise, even “normal” background noise. I even don’t like turning on the bathroom light because the fan also turns on and even this normal noise bothers me.

    God bless school teachers. I’ve helped on field trips, and the noise and bustle of a bunch of kids stresses/tires me out.

    Now at Mass, I miss moments of silence.
    We live in a large parish, and during communion because of the number of people, the choir usually sings two songs.  I wish they would stop at one and then let the church fill with silence. Sometimes they do and the silence is special after receiving the Eucharist.