The Desire for Desires

We just got high speed internet installed at home, which means that we now possess more ways of wasting time than ever before: Hulu, streaming video from Netflix, not to mention using social networking sites to keep abreast of every trivial moment in the lives of 247 of our closest "friends." They say even the gods struggle against boredom, but one wonders if that's still true. American life abounds in ways to amuse yourself. I don't think there has ever been a society as teeming in divertissement as this one.

I worry sometimes about a world without boredom. My wife and I will say to my son (who is always begging to do something fun) that it's not a bad thing to be bored once in a while. She and I tell him that our childhoods were filled with tedious afternoons, boring I-pod-less family trips in the backseats of stuffy cars, entire summer vacations when we couldn't speak to our best friend. No doubt it makes as much of an impression on him as our parents' tales of hardship did on us, which is to say not much at all.

Recently, I ran across a description of a suburban landscape in a magazine article about a photo realist painter whose work depicted empty, well-groomed lawns, parked cars, and comfortable if rather forlorn sprawls of tract homes. In response to these images, the critic wrote,
I sense the droning, sheer duration of days in suburban neighborhoods in mild climates, immensity laced with familiar terror: boredom, our foretaste of being dead.
But that’s a grown-up perspective. The sheer duration of those days in such neighborhoods during my childhood was of immense possibility. Those cool summer mornings where nothing was going on—every father and half the mothers away at work, the streets as empty as the garages – was admittedly boring, but it was never empty. It was pregnant; it was waiting and ready to be filled. And I always felt I could fill it back then. Now, not so much. The British Poet Phillip Larkin once wrote that life has two parts: first boredom, then fear. I much preferred the boring part.

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