There was a time when everything was slow. There was no way to be fast when people relied only on the power of their bodies for locomotion. It olden times going about things only as quickly as nature allowed was the norm, and if you weren’t going about things you were simply doing nothing.
I should imagine that there was more time for contemplation, after all they had to fill all that slow time with something. Walking to and from work, going to church or temple, visiting family in the next village… Even the simplest of routines would have been carried out relatively slowly. But as the pace of life quickened, somewhere along the way we lost the habit of enforced solitude and contemplation. Perhaps because it was unfamiliar, or maybe stopping to think was seen as a threat – in an industrial age when productivity became an end in itself – slowness became unpopular. Worse, it sprouted negative associations of idleness, sloth and boredom.
The idea of boredom barely existed until the mid-1800s (coincidentally, the time of the with the industrial revolution). It has gained in popularity since then, finally receiving sufficient recognition in 2010 to merit its own conference. If things continue at this rate it won’t be long before ‘boredom’ achieves the true status of medical recognition, and can be formally diagnosed.
It must be said that we have uncritically bought into the view that being bored is a bad thing. Modern living with its distractions and stimulations has lost many of the naturally occurring opportunities afforded by the slower pace of life. Thinking time became a casualty of speed and convenience, and as opportunities to reflect disappeared, so our ability to think in a deep way waned.
Boredom and creativity
But boredom doesn’t only get bad press. It has long been associated with creativity and inspiration. I have always recommended that, rather than complaining about it, people embrace their moments of boredom and encourage their children (often the most vociferous complainers) to do the same.
The value of taking time to do things is appreciated by some people, there are whole movements devoted to it. But you don’t have to be nerdy about it to reframe the idea of boredom and to actually seek out opportunities for going about things in a slow way. Be careful though, you might start to enjoy it, then where would we be!
Honoré, C., (2005), In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed.