A scientific study once found that approximately 63 percent of U.S. adults experienced boredom at least once in the course of a 10-day sampling period.
Alas, that was in 2017. I try not to imagine what that percentage would be today.
Crippling boredom is no longer any secret, nor should it be any groundbreaking discovery. By now, it’s a platitude, a tired trope that’s been played out on endless repeat for the past 12 months.
But I write this partly because this might be the first time in which I’ve felt boredom so acutely. It never came the spring of last year, when high school unexpectedly closed and thoughts of an extended summer circled in my mind. Not over the summer, as I scrambled to select courses and burned with anticipation of setting foot into the Old Campus for the first time, matching real life to all the Google images I’d seen. Not during the first semester, in that rush of new faces and midterms and essay deadlines.
Rather, boredom has come down on me now, in the middle of this second semester — amid the tedium of a seemingly perpetual quarantine, as the novelty of college has slowly started to fade and the homework begins to pile on again. I’m taking classes from my childhood bedroom, homebound with my family as we’ve been for the better part of this past year. And while my parents and sister have helped raise my spirits, they still can’t quite make up for the loss of physical interaction — the bumping into peers en route to dinner, the holding open doors for others, the late-night study sessions in the common room that an in-person first semester had offered.
Eat, sleep, school. Rinse and repeat. We’ve hunkered down in the monotony of daily life, a familiar routine that stitches hundreds of tiny days together in the same uneventful pattern that — once viewed from afar — somehow coalesces to a single, static stretch of time. At 24-hour intervals, I find myself standing before the bathroom sink in my pajamas with my toothbrush in hand, sitting down for breakfast and clicking on another Zoom link, preparing to repeat what feels like an action completed barely a second ago until I realize that an entire year has passed me by. Time putters and skitters all at once.
Understandably, I share with many of my peers, and much of the country, a collective sense of boredom. But as we wait for something — anything — to enter our lives, for vaccines to trickle their way through the country and life to return to normal, we should at least appreciate the great luxury of boredom. If nothing else, we should recognize that in this cruel pandemic reality, having the time in our hands to even feel bored is a privilege in itself, one we’ve taken too often for granted and a reflection of our own frighteningly spoiled tendencies.
Those complaints about life in quarantine — ruined vacation plans, dashed summer agendas, virtual classes — are laughably petty, if not outright ominous. Boredom is a consequence of being pampered by parents who do the laundry, cook lunch and prepare dinner. It’s when we’re lucky enough to not only enjoy the food on the table and have our ends meet, but to attend one of the most prestigious universities in the world. It’s a gift reserved for the few, the lucky. For many Yalies, the worst of a global crisis is merely having nothing exciting to do.
I followed, then unfollowed, sports after dismal performances by my favorite teams. I caught up on more movies than I can count. I waged a largely unsuccessful attempt at baking sourdough bread. I’ve scratched one book after another off my reading list. My family and I have started taking hourlong walks through the neighborhood streets in the evening, watching the days stretch ever longer.
Meanwhile, unemployment climbed — three months ago, families held their breath as Trump threatened to veto the federal relief bill. Health care infrastructure around the country collapsed, and front-line workers extended their shifts. Over 339,000 lost lives have left even more grieving families behind. The past year has only reenacted the struggle between privilege and poverty, the haves and have nots against the backdrop of a pandemic.
I am indescribably lucky — and grateful — for having lost no one, for having made it out in one piece. And tomorrow, I might read another chapter. I may go out on another daily hourlong walk through the neighborhood with my family or mule through the next Directed Studies essay. I might trudge my way through the seemingly unending cycle of day and night. But I’ll do all of it, mindful of the socioeconomic divisions that the pandemic has highlighted.
Because boredom is merely seeing the dull, gray smoke when all the rest of the world is aflame.
HANWEN ZHANG is a first year in Benjamin Franklin College. His column, titled ‘Thoughtful spot,’ runs every other Thursday. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.