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I’m not exactly suffering from lack of entertainment–diversions are everywhere. Is it time for the treadmill? Then a glorious period film keeps me company as I take my brisk uphill walk on this technology that exists because I don’t do hard work otherwise. Do I have a Saturday evening free? Then I can browse and “like” to my heart’s content on Ricochet. Am I simply tired and don’t want to think? Then I pop open my iPad cover and idly scroll Facebook. Even while doing daily chores, I’m listening to something: Bible teaching in the morning while my mind is fresh, and a light story narrated by a professional reader in the evenings when merely brushing my teeth can feel burdensome.
I admit, though, that even surrounded by these riches, I am still capable of boredom. Here’s my list of ennui-evoking circumstances–what’s on yours? (And you can’t say “lengthy meditations on what makes the writer yawn.”)
- Clever social media posts highlighting contradictions in the English language. I have never bragged about being bored out of my mind at school–I usually loved it. So I guess I belonged there, and all that factory floor compliance training was aimed at folks like me. A significant proportion of my education emphasized the English language, too. So logically, I should be gobbling up these social media tidbits. But I, who can be fascinated by a fly on my screen, catch dough, through, and tough, and then keep scrolling. Why? Well, I find these posts oddly taxing. I’m on Facebook, and I don’t want to have to actually concentrate on anything. Also, there are a handful of these witty word plays that keep getting re-posted. I wasn’t enthusiastic the first time, so I definitely will have no patience for reading and leaving appropriate emoticons the second, third, and fourth posting. Then, I often wonder why there’s a problem. The English language has been fed from many linguistic streams, making spelling tricky, especially if your school curriculum didn’t include phonics or word parts. Chasing down words to countries of origin, like India, might be interesting. Pointing out repeatedly that English spelling and pronunciation is confusing, on the other hand, just encourages me to interact with a picture of what a friend had for lunch, or to eavesdrop on lefty political conversations. I guess I just don’t care that these contradictions exist, so there’s zero scope for entertainment there.
- Puns on social media or anywhere else. I know–puns are a popular, clever, often clean mode of written amusement for the language lovers among us. Perhaps many of you reading this right now don’t object to the occasional ambiguous expression. Maybe you even guffaw at these. An older friend on Facebook, a scholarly individual, will occasionally indulge in these witticisms. He exudes tangible delight in his invention. His like-minded friends groan and pretty much reinforce the behavior. These are just unfunny to me. They are verbal rocks weighing down the newsfeed. Oh, there was a time I got into puns. I was eleven and had found a book of punny jokes with cartoony illustrations. One I actually laughed aloud at went something like, “What did the employees do on the anniversary of the toilet factory? They threw a potty.” Get it?
- Interminable videos with peppy hosts explaining concepts that would be more digestible in a short piece of writing. Well-known bloggers like to post videos, and as much as I respect their material, as soon as I press “play” and see them in their cars launching in to a long explanation of why it’s been such a crazy day, I’m done. When there’s a written option, I go for that. I like a neat presentation, with several points set out to make it digestible. Then I’m finished in a quarter of the time it would have taken to sit through that tedious waste of multi-media. Even experienced communicators can be unengaging on camera. Preferring the written word translates to my offline life: during face-to-face talks, I’m tempted to skim the notes ahead of the speaker and get the gist without wading through aural surplus. This is not to say that videos can’t be a handy tool for learning–they can. Their effectiveness depends on how the medium is used. Experts should prepare their words ahead of time. They should deliver their content not just as talking heads, but with supporting visuals. They should begin in a compelling manner and tell me why I shouldn’t miss their video. Otherwise, I’m going to the transcript to dig out the thin vein of gold, and then I’m out of there.
- Informational books that start with primitive man. So many authors feel obligated to go all the way to the beginning with their topic and end up offering a vestigial chapter, a bland soup of speculation and assumptions I don’t share. Ugh, I came for the premise, so get on with it, already. Let’s fast forward a few thousand years, to a less blurry point in history where the author can write with verve and authority on his topic.
- Tangential stories about the origins of current traditions. First, I’m not sure I care that deeply about why rice is thrown at newly married couples. I’m certainly not interested enough to want to take a side trip from an otherwise engaging description of life as a wedding photographer. And the book is for sure in dull territory when these explanations reach back to Greece or Rome, and the connections to current traditions are tenuous. As in #4 above, the author seems to be guessing, and the more one has read similar material, the more it’s clear that there are often different, conflicting origin stories. If you want to stray from the topic and believe a little historical conjecture would be enriching, include it in a note. Otherwise, the reader might start to suspect that you are just inserting these bland side trips to pad your skinny book.
- Polite group conversations. I should probably not confess my aversion to these. I do love a good discussion, and I’ll exchange the expected level of niceties, but what I want in return is a dive into some relevant topic, whether it’s about me or them or current issues. But the opportunity for an interesting exploration dwindles the more participants join the conversation. With more than three people, a natural leader might pick a thread of general interest to help everyone belong and to keep the talk going. It might be technical points of gardening–when to plant, what fertilizers to use. I often want to escape these conversations, which are necessarily inclusive, but not fulfilling. Fortunately, I don’t very often get stuck like this, especially once I feel comfortable moving around in a particular social circle. The memory of the gardening talk remained with me after all these years, and now I happily and proactively seek out something a little more stimulating.