On wishing for boredom

This is not a post about Steve Jobs. I read enough of them in the days and weeks after his death. I read in these a lot of what I already knew and learned some new stuff for sure, but one Steve quote stood out to me in Wired’s obit­u­ary:

I’m a big believ­er in bore­dom,” he told me. Bore­dom allows one to indulge in curios­i­ty, he explained, and “out of curios­i­ty comes every­thing.”

I’m not sure if I’d head this quote from him before, but it put into words some­thing that has been trou­bling me for some time: I haven’t been bored in years.

The first time I noticed this was in the mid-2000s, and  I only real­ized part of it, and I saw it through the lens of my Inter­net usage, par­tic­u­lar­ly RSS. Even today, as the cool kids have moved on to fol­low­ing Twit­ter feeds (real­ly, talk about a step back­wards) of web­sites and blogs they find inter­est­ing, I’m still a huge fan of the no-bullshit, user-in-control, decen­tral­ized pow­er of RSS.1

What occurred to me back then was that hav­ing posts pushed to me dai­ly gave me more read­ing mate­r­i­al than I need­ed. And since I could nev­er get all the way through the unread glut of posts from blogs I’d sub­scribed to, my need to ever go for­ag­ing for inter­est­ing things to read basi­cal­ly dis­ap­peared. RSS gave me tons of serendip­i­ty (thank you, linkblogs!)… and at the same time, prac­ti­cal­ly none at all. I miss the old days — some would say the bad old days — when I’d get my online enter­tain­ment and ran­dom bits of enlight­en­ment by brows­ing aim­less­ly from link to link, being per­son­al­ly point­ed to inter­est­ing things by friends on AIM, fol­low­ing lat­est links post­ed to proto-blogs like Pix­el­sur­geon, and… I don’t know, how­ev­er else we found cool shit back then.

The sec­ond time I felt this effect of this was at some point over the last few years, but this time in a more gen­er­al sense. This time it was big­ger than RSS; this time it was about every­thing in my life.

I real­ized I have far too many options for enter­tain­ment. There are two rea­sons for this: mas­sive dig­i­tal stor­age devices and the fact that, being employed gives me an actu­al enter­tain­ment bud­get for pur­chas­ing paid media and fan­cy devices on which to expe­ri­ence it. Between a pile of unread books and bunch of e-books; more unwatched movies, sea­sons of old TV shows and ani­me series than I can name; and games galore that I’ll nev­er fin­ish (thank you Nin­ten­do Wii and DS, Android phone and a still-kickin’ Atari 2600), I’m pret­ty much set for… for­ev­er.2 Even if I don’t seek out any­thing new, it’ll be years and years before I get through all of this. And it’s not like I can just ignore new releas­es and stuff I become aware of in the mean­time!

I might be able to enjoy this world o’ plen­ty, if I could for­get about what life was like when I was grow­ing up, before we had the com­put­ing pow­er, stor­age and net­work capac­i­ty to expe­ri­ence all the dig­i­tal rich­es of more enter­tain­ment than we’ll ever need. I spent so much time being bored grow­ing up, aim­less­ly think­ing and day­dream­ing and such. This was before my first com­put­er; I had tons of books and had prob­a­bly read almost all of them, made good use of the pub­lic library, played with toys, action fig­ures and stuff a whole lot and still found time to be bored and day­dream because it seemed like I had run out of things to do.

If you live a sim­i­lar­ly full, media-rich and employed first-world life, and can still ever find your­self so lux­u­ri­ous­ly bored, how do you man­age? And can you teach me?

  1. Google Read­er, please don’t die.
  2. I didn’t men­tion music here, because the way I con­sume music is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. I still clear­ly have more than I “need,” but I don’t feel the same sort of pres­sure to get through it all, thanks to shuf­fle mode.

The case of the disappearing, reappearing dictionary

I was a vora­cious read­er from a rather ear­ly age. I recall hav­ing had my read­ing lev­el, in first or sec­ond grade, assessed at that of an eighth-grader.

My read­ing prowess could be attrib­uted to a few things, like my par­ents read­ing to me from a young age, and often encour­ag­ing me to read to them. More impor­tant­ly, if I came across a word I didn’t know and asked them what it meant, they almost always made me go look it up in the dic­tio­nary. I had a children’s dic­tio­nary that I adored, but for words that didn’t appear in there, I’d use their musty col­le­giate dic­tio­nary. This fos­tered an envi­ron­ment where lit­er­al­ly no word was beyond my com­pre­hen­sion, an empow­er­ing feel­ing for a pre-geek with a single-digit age!

As I grew up, I didn’t always man­age to keep read­ing with such vol­ume and tenac­i­ty, and today, while I read tons of bits and blogs from the Web, long-form con­tent isn’t some­thing I take in a lot of. When I do, it tends to be an e-book. (I read these, in epub for­mat, on my Android phone using the excel­lent open-source FBRead­er. Yes, read­ing off of a small back­lit screen sucks, but this is mit­i­gat­ed by a nice serif font and the knowl­edge that, as I’m often read­ing in the dark, I wouldn’t real­ly be able to read any oth­er way.)

As I read, still I come across the occa­sion­al word I don’t know. These days, my main dic­tio­nary (either Free Dic­tio­nary Org or Lex­i­con Lite) also lives inside of my phone. FBRead­er doesn’t have its own built-in, and to switch to anoth­er app is kind of a pain, so I’ve late­ly been find­ing myself shrug­ging off unknown terms. I have become the sort of per­son who stopped learn­ing new words.

This both­ered me, so I decid­ed that, damn the incon­ve­nience, I would start look­ing up words again. Once I tried, I learned that it actu­al­ly wasn’t so hard, after all.

The secret (if you could call it that) was to long-hold my phone’s Home but­ton. This is the equiv­a­lent to the Alt+Tab key com­bi­na­tion in Lin­ux and Win­dows, which allows you to flip through open apps (only, in Android, it’s a list of the six most recent­ly used apps, open or oth­er­wise). As long as the dic­tio­nary is among the last six, it’ll appear in that list… as does FBRead­er, when it’s time to switch back. This is much more enjoy­able than going back to the home screen, flip­ping open the apps draw­er, etc.

I guess that’s a pass­able not-so-new-anymore year’s res­o­lu­tion: to leave no word un-lexicized.