On Boredom

*this essay is based on a talk I gave during the second edition of DDD around Boredom, hosted by Bakken & Bæck
While thinking about the second edition of DDD, I pitched multiple themes to my fellow BB'ers. We talked about time, duration, repetition, loops, transitions, cycles, windows, interfaces, frames, portals, gaps, cracks, the absence of presence, the void, the feeling of missing someone or something, melting icecaps, memories, empty shops, 404s, and more things like that, which eventually channeled down to one seemingly simple and overarching theme: boredom.

Disclaimer: I realise it's kind of silly to host an event about boredom, as an event is by definition something that takes place, a happening — the antidote for boredom. Boredom usually starts to creep in when nothing takes place. When the densely woven web of events, which often conceals the passage of time, has become so thin that it offers us a peak into the emptiness that lies underneath.
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By Paloma Kop

Boredom allows us to experience an important, but paradoxical, aspect of the passage of time. In boredom time does not want to pass, it stalls and stretches out. Under the spell of boredom, time feels, as one of the German terms for boredom suggests, like a "long while", eine langweile.

If I would like you to experience boredom in real time, I would silently show you a clock that shows a monotonous circular movement, a representation of time that slowly stretches out before our eyes. When I would ask you: "have you ever been bored?", I assume that most of you would answer yes (or I hope you would), and that we all share a somewhat similar experience, which probably comes close to the paralysing rendez-vous with empty time displayed on a slowly ticking clock; the awareness of being trapped by a certain situation that doesn't seem to end.

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By unknown

If I would have been asked the question, I would steal Kierkegaard's definition of boredom, who is known for being very fixated on the topic. He wrote, while thinking about boredom: "I lie outstretched, inactive; the only thing I see is: emptiness; the only thing I live off: emptiness: the only thing I move in: emptiness."

When looking into the etymology of “Boredom”, I discovered it stems from the word “bore”, which dates from the year 1000, and refers to something which pierces, perforates, makes a hole, or makes something hollow, in other words, creates an empty space.

If I would aim to be a bore right now, I would talk so tediously as to metaphorically pierce holes in you, and you, the ones being bored, will be rendered hollow by my boring talk. While piercing someone with ennui seems to be a violent way of looking at boredom, today’s meaning of the word still rest on this "hole making", on the creation of empty spaces in which we feel trapped.
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But how to describe this empty space called boredom, how to draw a picture of a hole where nothing happens? When describing vague spaces like empty holes, we quickly get stuck. We are in need of some metaphors, figures of speech. Russian poet Joseph Brodsky provided me with this imagery. In a speech to soon-to-be graduates at Dartmouth, he described boredom as: "the psychological Sahara that starts right in your bedroom and spurns the horizon."

I like this metaphor, as it not only describes the inner "hole" that pierces us, but also gives a hint at how it spreads from your personal space, the bedroom, to the outside world, until there's nothing more than boredom on the horizon — an inescapable view.

When trapped in this desert, the three-dimensional order of time, of past, present, future, narrows down to a lineair timeline — an immanent sequence of now. Boredom, therefore, does not create a passive numbness but an irritating emptiness, a desire for something unknown, something new to relieve the claustrophobic sense of time passing slowly. It’s a restless experience.
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By unknown

Being someone who enjoys words, I sometimes scribble down words that I didn't know before, and I use them as passwords for my computer, so I'll remember them. The past few weeks I have been using ATARAXIA as my password (*changing it now*), which means, if I can rely on my own notes, "the absence of Disturbia", or "a state of serene calmness", if I can rely on Google.

While being bored, we desire to be either in this state of ataraxia, or in the state of enthusiasm, another word that stems from the Greek language. If you would break down enthusiasm into parts, it would be “En, Theos, Seismos", which means something like "in, God, earthquake". Or at least, that’s what Valeria Luiselli writes in Lost Children Archives. Enthusiasm, like giddyness, as an inner earthquake, a state of being inspired by something divine, like a God or Goddess. According to Kierkegaard, the Greek gods themselves were bored. That’s why they created human beings, who would be possessed by them, and therefore be “enthusiasts” on their behalf.
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By Bobby Barack

By Blobby Barack But what if these Gods are no longer there to inspire us? A couple of centuries ago, we began to see ourselves as individual beings that must realize ourselves, we came producers of our own meaning, no longer possessed or controlled by the Gods. In modern terms, boredom is no longer just something to be caused by the Gods, who were in control of our daily situations, but by our own inability to create meaning within our lives. A lack, a loss of personal meaning, or simply passive dissatisfaction.

The bored subject cannot make or does not find his or her situation meaningful, connecting boredom with desire. A desire for “interesting” things, new things that might fill the holes of emptiness that pierce our souls. To cover those holes, we became the productive authors of our own desires, desires we try to fulfil by constant stimuli. 

To be free of boredom, we aim to fill it with a sufficient number of impulses. We throw ourselves on all things new, with a hope that the new will be able to supply life with a personal meaning. 
Nowadays, we prefer everything to move at a quick pace, including the creation of personal meaning, we demand interesting things to pop up whenever the feeling of boredom starts to creep up.
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By Hateplow
But everything new soon becomes old again, and the promise of personal meaning is not always fulfilled — at least, not more than just for the time being. So this longing for the new, this yearning for expansion, for reaching a goal that always lies beyond our reach, starts to accumulate, and so will the number of impulses we need to answer this longing. 

Perhaps time now passes so quickly that it will shallow up boredom, causing us to be past boredom.

I rarely find myself in a state of boredom. But when I feel it creeping up, it’s usually at a non-place. When I’m stuck at the airport, in the train, or an elevator. In those moments, which usually are no longer than a few minutes or hours, I immediately feel my hand sliding towards my phone – the interface that accommodates a constant stream stimuli in the form of videos, social interaction, music – answering my desire for, well, the desire to not be there, in those meaningless in-between spaces. 

Or to relate myself to these places, as if I’m the protagonist of some film.
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By The Griffith Absurdatory

But, thanks to the opportunity to prep this talk, I’ll think about Joseph Brodsky the next time I’ll be waiting for the bus. In his speech, he told the graduates, who soon would be looking for work, that hopefully would fulfil their desire for meaning: ”When boredom strikes, throw yourself into it. Let it squeeze, submerge you, right to the bottom."

Brodsky reminds us that in boredom, we can find meaning. Even when an emptying takes place, this “bore” can enable a receptiveness for the unexpected. Boredom pulls things out of their usual contexts. It can establish a new configuration of things, and therefore new meanings that we didn’t search for.

I feel, being part of an always productive generation of workers, it’s our biggest challenge to allow ourselves to peek at the slow passing of time again, to become comfortable in not knowing. By organizing DDD, we invited our speakers to create a digital desert of dullness, in which we can walk around aimlessly for an evening.

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By Parallel_studio_