And why being really bored might actually be the best thing to happen to you.
Barely a day passes without another set of results indicating something shocking or depressing about "millennials." We are a generation being analyzed in real time, and our behavior and decisions are constantly compiled into infographics declaring us the most vegetarian, impotent, gender-fluid group in recorded history. Last week, however, the results of a survey were published with a conclusion alarming enough for me to sit up and take notice, for a minute or so at least. Apparently, two thirds of millennials are "bored with life." Twenty-seven percent are bored with television, one in six are fed up with social media, and 25 percent of us get bored trying to fall asleep. We've lost interest in everything. Fed up with feeling. Bored with being.
There's something about that phrase, though, "bored with life," that is startling. It's a blunt diagnosis. It's as though it's missing words. Like a desperate conclusion reached after countless previous attempts at defining the malaise failed to capture the real problem. It's one thing to be bored with math or bored with Girls, but to be bored with existence is surely to reject every element in the known universe. Say what you like about life, there's definitely enough stuff to keep you occupied between your birth and your death.
When I evaluate my lived experience, how it feels to be me on a day to day basis, my instinct is to say no, I'm not bored with it. Ostensibly there is lots going on. On an average day, I speak to some interesting people, read about the world's suffering and Drake and Theresa May, and watch go-pro videos of bears chasing cyclists. I usually drink a couple of different types of hot drinks, sometimes smoke a cigarette and regret it, eat some cashews, and piss a few times. In the evenings, I down beers or watch old episodes of Catchphrase or stand around in nightclubs pretending I'm not tired. And that's just the content. Inside my head, it's also an absolute rollercoaster. I feel happy when I see my girlfriend, disappointed when I see my torso, angry when I read comment sections, stressed when I poach eggs, laugh with my friends, and cry once every two or three years. It's sometimes a bit tiring, but it's not boring.
Like all young people, I do have a problem committing to an activity. I have a disconcerting inability to finish a book, for example. My rucksack has currently got two Penguin classics and a relatively short nonfiction on Afrofuturism I got for Christmas. I'm enjoying them all, but any stretch of reading that lasts beyond three pages, I begin to feel the invisible threads beneath my eye sockets tugging my head away from the text and onto something else. The obvious culprit to blame here is: smartphones. It's no great breakthrough in social commentary to declare that the arrival of constant, mobile social interaction has engendered shorter attention spans, but that's not quite what we're talking about here. Boredom doesn't necessarily mean an inability to concentrate. Boredom is a lack of interest, or a lack of things to be interested by. Boredom is an empty stare into a void.
And that's the question: How can the generation with more to do than any before it claim to be bored with life? Is it possible that we've created a new type of boredom? A boredom born from a glut of options rather than an absence. When I think about how I feel on a daily basis, there is often a niggling sensation that I want to be doing something else. I want to go and make a coffee. I want to double-check Twitter. I want to change the music I'm listening to. The vast expanse of the Netflix library becomes a TV to-do list. My saved-for-later articles are like the reading for a course I'll never pass. This boredom manifests itself as a restlessness—less being "bored with life," more constantly waiting for life to happen. This listless, fidgeting boredom strikes me as a survival technique, of sorts. The only natural way we can cope with the sheer volume of content vying for our attention is to constantly rotate what we dedicate our time to—a white noise we've developed to drown out the volume of everything all at once.
With that in mind, you could say that boredom, actual, old-school, staring out a rain-lashed window into the garden boredom, would be a gift. In an article for the Guardian last year, Gayatri Devi, an associate professor of English at Lock Haven University, described boredom as the "last privilege of the free mind." In her words, boredom is an "intense experience of time untouched by beauty, pleasure, comfort, and all other temporal salubrious sensations." Essentially, real boredom, real empty space, is pretty much the only time we spend with our own thoughts, and our own thoughts alone. The only time within which our thoughts are allowed to hang around, and grow off into other bigger and better thoughts without being scrubbed from the board by the flat palm of sex, or drugs, or fantasy football leagues. To be bored with life is, of course, an infantile and depressing thing to say or feel, but to be bored in life, from time to time. That might not be so bad after all.
Follow Angus Harrison on Twitter.