Boredom is good for you, they say. Social media overstimulate and rewire our brains. At The Huffington Post, Michael Harris wrote:
To rework an old Jean-Paul Sartre line: If you’re bored when you’re alone, you’re in bad company. Boredom itself isn’t a sign that you need some distraction; it’s a sign that you’ve grown addicted to distractions and you need to develop a rich interior life. “
Certainly social media can be addictive. I ruthlessly lock up my tablet during the day so I don’t spend too much time online.
My favorite TV show last fall, “Selfie” (cancelled in November), was an updated version of Pygmalion. It revolved around the problem of unconnecting from social media and connecting socially. Eliza Dooley (Karen Gillan), a sexy pharmaceutical saleswoman, spends her days taking selfies and updating Instagram and social media. She has millions of followers but no friends. Henry Higgs (John Cho), a strait-laced marketing rep, teaches her manners after she discovers no one likes her.
Eliza learns cyberstalking is a “don’t” in friendship, and, instructed by Henry, begins to ask people, “How do you do?” But a relationship is a two-way street: Henry discovers Facebook is crack.
There has to be a middle ground, the writers of the cancelled show seem to conclude. In the episode, “Even Hell Has Two Bars,” Henry and Eliza spend a weekend on their boss’s country estate with no cell phone connection. At the end of the episode, after a reaffirmation of their friendship, a look of calm appears on Eliza’s face as she discovers her phone is working again. Henry looks wistfully at her, but then he too becomes absorbed in his phone.
Don’t we all know that calm of reconnecting on the internet?
I don’t have a cell phone, though.
One of these days we’ll all have to carry one as part of a government ID. program. Shades of Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story.
Is boredom so wonderful?
On a hot summer day, I rediscover boredom.
Temperature: 95 degrees
Air conditioner: off
Fan blowing: one
Pitchers of iced tea in the refrigerator: two
I decide not to go outside.
Just an old-fashioned day at home, I say, sneaking on to the internet four times.
But you know, it is nice on a hot day to sit and read. I have chosen a Japanese novel, Kawabata’s Snow Country, for its coolness. Set in a mountain town with a hot spring, it describes the relationship between Shimamura, a married man, and Komako, a woman who learns to be a geisha. She loves him, but Shimamura is cold and insists that many of her activities are a waste of time.
Komako keeps a detailed reading journal, cataloguing every novel and short story she has read since she was fifteen.
You write down your criticisms, do you?”
“I could never do anything like that. I just write down the author and the characters and how they are related to each other. That is about all.”
“But what good does it do?”
“None at all.”
She has no one to talk to about books in her small town. The words pour out as she tells him about her reading. He observes, “There was something lonely, something sad in it, something that rather suggested a beggar who has lost all desire. It occurred to Shimamura that his own distant fantasy on the western ballet, built up from words and photographs in foreign books, was not in its way dissimilar.”
With social media, Komako would have connected to others about books.
Perhaps she would read less, though. We do a lot of clicking online.
There is good and there is bad in our 1984 world.
Below you can watch the scene from “Selfie” in which Eliza and Henry find their phone connection.