If he can maintain his concentration, Goetz intends to continue his own research into understanding the nature of boredom. He wants to measure physiological signs of arousal, which could one day add a new component to wearable health trackers. He’s also interested in investigating whether specific boredom types correspond to different age levels and cultures. “There are many important questions to be answered related to the boredom types,” he says.
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Finally, a real problem caused by boredom is that it leads you to dislike the things that are the object of boredom. In my senior year of high school, for example, I was forced to read Moby Dick. I struggled to get interested in it and spent long hours staring at the pages trying to lose myself in it. To this day, I really do not like Moby Dick. The negative feelings that came with the boredom have stuck to the book.
This kind of boredom is different from the others. Like reactant boredom, it’s also unpleasant, but a person experiencing it has low arousal and a lack of positive or negative feelings–in other words, a feeling of helplessness or depression. Of the high school students sampled in the study, 36% of boredom experiences were of the apathetic kind, which is worrisome given that other studies have shown that boredom, depression, and destructive behaviors are often linked.
“To me, at least in retrospect, the really interesting question is why dullness proves to be such a powerful impediment to attention. Why we recoil from the dull. Maybe it’s because dullness is intrinsically painful; maybe that’s where phrases like ‘deadly dull’ or ‘excruciatingly dull’ come from. But there might be more to it. Maybe dullness is associated with psychic pain because something that’s dull or opaque fails to provide enough stimulation to distract people from some other, deeper type of pain that is always there, if only in an ambient, low-level way, and which most of us spend nearly all our time and energy trying to distract ourselves from feeling, or at least from feeling directly or with our full attention. Admittedly, the whole thing’s pretty confusing, and hard to talk about abstractly…but surely something must lie behind not just Muzak in dull or tedious places any more but now also actual TV in waiting rooms, supermarkets’ checkouts, airport gates, SUVs’ backseats. Walkman, iPods, BlackBerries, cell phones that attach to your head. This terror of silence with nothing diverting to do. I can’t think anyone really believes that today’s so-called ‘information society’ is just about information. Everyone knows it’s about something else, way down.”
There was also a piano, well littered with music, a sewing bag thrown down upon a cretonned window seat, and the generous fireplace was flanked by two huge baskets, one heaped with magazines, the other a perfectly round mound of yellow fur, which suddenly took form and life as a yellow tabby cat fastened hopeful topaz eyes upon them, blinked away a brief disappointment, and then yawned with ennui.
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