A Reunion with Boredom by Charles Simic | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books:
Do people still suffer from periods of boredom even with computers, smart phones and tablets to occupy them endlessly? There’s also television, of course, which in homes of many Americans is on twenty-four hours a day, making it harder and harder to find a quiet place to sit and think. Even neighborhood bars, the old refuge of introspective loners, now have huge TV screens alternating between sports and chatter to divert them from their thoughts. As soon as college students are out of class, cell phones, and iPods materialize in their hands, requiring full concentration and making them instantly oblivious of their surroundings. I imagine Romeo and Juliet would send text messages to each other today as they strolled around Verona, though I find it hard to picture Hamlet advising Ophelia to betake herself to a nunnery.
These and other thoughts came to me as I sat in a dark house for three days in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. Being without lights and water is a fairly common experience for those of us who live in rural areas on roads lined with old trees. Every major rainstorm or snowstorm is almost certain to bring down the lines, which, because of the relative scarcity of population, are a low priority for the power company to fix. We use oil lamps and most often candles, so our evenings around the dining room table resemble séances. We sit with our heads bowed as if trying to summon spirits, while in truth struggling to see what’s on our dinner plates. Being temporarily unable to use the technology we’ve grown dependent on to inform ourselves about the rest of the world, communicate with others, and pass the time, is a reminder of our alarming dependence on them. “Nights are so boring!” my neighbors kept repeating. Our days were not much better, with overcast skies that made it even difficult to read indoors. All of this reminded me of the days of my youth when my family, like so many others, lived in a monastic solitude when the weather was bad, since we had no television. It wasn’t in church, but on dark autumn days and winter nights that I had an inkling of what they meant when they spoke about eternity. Everyone read in order to escape boredom. I had friends so addicted to books, their parents were convinced they were going crazy with so many strange stories and ideas running like fever through their brains, not to mention becoming hard of hearing, after failing to perform the simplest household chores like letting the cat out.