Our Struggles With Boredom

Modern technology brings about change so quickly that the harmful effects are generally not discovered before they are irreversible and before we realize how destructive the effects can be.

Back in the 1960’s, the eminent scientist Harlow Shapely wrote on the five factors he believed that could potentially destroy Western civilization. The first was nuclear war and terrorism, then famine, climate catastrophe, and a plague or pandemic. The fifth factor he listed was surprisingly, “boredom.” He said boredom could destroy us. Shapely believed “widespread and chronic indifference to ordinary values, pursuits, freedoms, and obligations could lead to our demise, as life becomes absurd and irrelevant.

Fast forward to 1985 when a fascinating book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, was written by Neil Postman. This was prior to the internet and social media, but it is as if he saw it coming. The forward of the book lays out this premise very powerfully.

Postman says everyone was keeping their eye upon the year 1984 because of George Orwell’s famous book 1984, a novel about the consequences of a totalitarian government. He modeled the regime in the book after Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany. It was published in 1949.

But there was another novel that was published just prior to Orwell’s, and just as chilling; Aldous Huxley’s, Brave New World. Postman says:

Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacity to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared we would be overloaded with information. Orwell feared Big Brother would conceal the truth from us. Huxley feared the truth would be irrelevant. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture while Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture preoccupied with how we feel.

In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

Here we are seventy years later and it appears Huxley and not Orwell was right.

Much has been written about how social media has increased the reality of boredom in people’s lives. The reason is because social media offers little challenge, requires little skill, and offers little if any reward. Dr. Andrew Lepp says these are the ingredients of a life of boredom.

This in turn causes so many who struggle with boredom to seek short-term solutions like electronic entertainment or drugs and alcohol. However, the pleasures of this world are unsustainable and provide only a counterfeit of life. This is what leads to spiritual emptiness.

It is hard for people to know what to do with this emptiness in their lives. They don’t understand it. The great French philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal, put it this way, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person which cannot be filled by anything in this created world, but only by God made known through Jesus Christ.”

It would appear that modern people, particularly our young people, are looking for something in this world that only God can provide. It is our responsibility to clearly communicate this message to them.

Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.


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