Monday, February 07, 2011

On Boredom

When I think about Aki growing up, and the things that were foundational for me, one that I want most for her is time to be bored. I don’t mean that pervasive sense of purposelessness or ennui that seems to get confused with boredom, though I’m sure that she’ll have plenty of that. I mean the kind of boredom that comes from long stretches of unorganized time.

When I was young, I often had nothing to do. My periods of structured time were largely limited. I played soccer one year, baseball another, but they were both summer leagues, and we were too young to be truly competitive. During school I was allowed a few hours of entertainment: maybe half an hour of videogames or an hour of television. I had homework of course, which may have taken me an hour when I cared to do it with any real attention, which was rare. Other than that, all I had to occupy my time was my friends, my surroundings, and whatever we could find to do. I remember hours playing with G.I. Joe toys and riding bikes. I remember sitting on lawns and discovering that it only took an hour or two to find a four-leaf clover.

These days, its almost the reverse. I flit from activity to activity constantly soaking in or producing information. I spend enormous amounts of time online, reading books, magazines, journals, watching tv shows or movies, listening to the radio, to music, playing with my phone, playing games, reading reviews of things I don’t have time to watch, or read, or play.

Nowadays I end up scheduling time away from media, and it’s space I cherish— exercising without headphones, meditating, taking a walk to the grocery store with Aki and leaving my phone behind.

Human intelligence, I believe, is born out of a particular and peculiar non-computer-like ability to synthesize new information out of all that we take in. We learn by studying and repeating, but we create new things — we demonstrate and innovate our learning — by combining disparate elements to make new things that never were. This is what writers do, but it’s also what engineers and architects do. It’s what all creative people do.

But we need time to enact that synthesis. To be creative means setting aside time without input, to allow our brains to cull through what we know, and make interesting new ideas. But that seems to be something that, at the moment, we’re tempted not to give ourselves, and we’re scared to give it to our children. I worry about the pressure to raise Aki in an environment where we’re tempted to rush her from charter school to dance class to chess class to music lessons, filling every second of her day until bedtime, because we fear that otherwise she won’t be competitive.

But more than that, I worry about the toys, the games and computers and phones which already eat up so much of my day, and I want to raise her so that she has some space away from it. I want her to develop the ability to resist their temptation: to value contemplation and solace, and down-time. I worry about it for her, because I feel like I don’t get enough of it myself. And I don’t have the courage to throw out all my shiny toys, to raise Aki in a house without these things. Perhaps someday.

Also, just so this post doesn't end up entirely depressing, this afternoon she grabbed the bottle from me and shoved the nipple straight into her nose. We both looked surprised.

1 comment:

Bernie said...

nose is close, very close!