Is There Value in Boredom?

The following is part 2 of my interaction with Clay Shirky’s interview titled “How We Will Read.” See here for part 1.

My Dad always told me that boredom is a choice. When I was a kid he was telling me that if I was bored it was my own fault for not using my imagination. Today, young people would have to choose to be bored, since we practically have entertainment pumped into us as intravenous.

In light of this, Clay Shirky talks about the value of reading in today’s over-stimulated world:

The reading experience is so much more valuable now than it was ten years ago because it’s rarer. I remember, as a child, being bored. I grew up in a particularly boring place and so I was bored pretty frequently. But when the Internet came along it was like, ‘That’s it for being bored! Thank God! You’re awake at four in the morning? So are thousands of other people!’

It was only later that I realized the value of being bored was actually pretty high. Being bored is a kind of diagnostic for the gap between what you might be interested in and your current environment. But now it is an act of significant discipline to say, ‘I’m going to stare out the window. I’m going to schedule some time to stare out the window.’

The endless gratification offered up by our devices means that the experience of reading in particular now becomes something we have to choose to do.

Is it valuable to be bored? In the context of Shirky’s comments boredom is equated with the practice of disciplined reading.

For Christians who must remain people of the book in the age of the iPhone, this is a rather significant observation. In spite of constant stimulation we must now choose to engage a less stimulated state so we can deeply engage God’s word. Teaching young people to practice the discipline of sustained attention will be one of the greatest challenges for discipleship today.


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