When I was a young kid I spent my summer months by myself in Ecuador.
Well that is not entirely true. I stayed with my grandparents. But, since my grandmother was bedridden and my grandfather spent all day at work, I was left on my own.
My day began at 7am and from that point on I was on my own. I had no friends and nobody to play with. All of my cousins were at school so I only saw them on Sundays. Being away from home, I had none of my usual toys to entertain me.
Those years were pre-internet. TV was out of the question because there were only three channels anyway and the TV was in my grandmother’s room. I was really left up to my own devices so I learned how to deal with silence and boredom and how to entertain myself.
I grew up in boredom and know how to use it. That experience taught me how to work independently and without much guidance. Its fair to say that the seeds of my independence were born during those years..
Now, I look at my children and see that they have no periods of boredom. They are continually connected through their phones, computers, video games and streaming companies such as Hulu and Netflix. I do limit their use but its an ongoing battle.
My oldest child is really a fan of pop culture and will “binge watch” shows for hours on end. I know this is bad for her and have implemented ways to budget her time; yet, she still finds a way to watch her shows. I am not alone on this. Many of my friends’ parents have expressed their dismay at the amount of time their children spend on electronic devices.
Admittedly, all of these mediums have some benefits to them if used in the proper context. However, I personally fell that, in the end, these new tools can become vices that seductively lure us away from a meaningful life. Boredom never enters into the minds of children today simply because they are forever being entertained. That quiet space where self-direction and creativity are born is disappearing.
Boredom trained me to become patient and to allow things to unfold naturally.
When I was in the Marine Corps, we had to do one particular training on how to plot ambushes. An ambush is a tactic where the attacker hides him/herself and waits for the enemy to walk into its trap. One emphasis of the exercise was to stay in position, motionless, for hours on end. Regardless of the weather conditions, bodily needs and mental state, we had to learn to stay quiet and still without moving. Even the Marine Corps, which prides itself on its aggressiveness, understood the need to be silent and still for long periods of time in order to be successful in war…even if t iss maddeningly boring!
My tenure as a professional bond trader also required immense patience. One of the main skills needed was the ability to watch computer screens for hours on end in order to identify subtle price movements It was not uncommon for me to spend eight hours a day glued to my screen, unable to leave my desk, because of the demands of the job. Many times, the days were tedious and the work grueling; but, I was self-trained in knowing I could sit there and do the work. Part of the job was to sit, watch and pounce like a tiger when price aberrations appeared on the screen. The success only came to the traders who had the ability to watch and wait for long periods of time, the ones who could handle boredom, and be there in the moment to seize the opportunity when it arose.
I am not so sure that our devices and our culture are forming the types of people who can sit down and do the grueling work that is needed to accomplish so many necessary aspects of productivity.
Take the classic song Hallelujah written and performed by Leonard Cohen which was released in 1984 and never found an audience. The reason was that the first iteration of the song was not very good and Cohen knew it. But he also he knew the song contained seeds of greatness. Cohen would not relent. He went over and over the song. He picked at it and picked at it n an effort to refine it. For him it never became a hit. And yet other artists saw the beauty and power within the song and, for years fiddled, with it for years. For years. It wasn’t until an artist named Jeff Buckley shortened the song and edited the lyrics that it became a hit. That was 15 years after Leonard Cohen wrote it.
“Hallelujah” is now considered one of the greatest songs of all time. Some songwriters call it one of the top ten songs of all time. One of the reasons that the song is considered great is because of the sheer amount of effort by various artists over the years who took the time, and exhibited the patience, to do the work. They studied, played and tinkered until a masterpiece was emerged.
Think about it. A five minute song took 13 years to create.
Admittedly, I too have been affected by this digital age. I’ve wasted plenty of time on my phone knowing the time was being misused. But at least I have a point of reference. I have something against which to measure myself..all those years when I learned the value of downtime.
All of these terrific companies that have been created over the last few years such as Facebook, Instagram and Snap Chat are a testament to the genius of their creators; yet, there was a “method to their madness.” They were designing systems and processes to grab your attention so you’d waste your time on their platforms and to their economic gain.
Slavery comes in many forms.