I once took a series of long commuter bus trips with the same driver who kept decelerating and accelerating even on stretches of empty highway. This driving pattern make it impossible to concentrate on my newest software package which promised ecstasy everlasting with indented paragraphs.
There was something distressingly familiar about his annoying pattern of false starts, endlessly repeated.
I was reminded of two elephants I had seen at a small town circus whose performance amounted to just swaying back and forth to music. In their cage after the show, they continued to sway, going through their motions, exercising their stunted expertise. Now, I will begin to worry about animal rights the morning every child awakens safe and well fed, but seeing these great beasts moving without challenge or change, in a cycle of endless beginnings, was truly disturbing.
Thinking about the elephants made me reconsider my anger at the driver. He wasn't incompetent. He was bored. Seriously, totally, bored. He was unconsciously re-creating the more challenging moments of a job which had precious few. He was going through the motions, exercising a stunted expertise.
I realized that this fidgety, fractured cycle of false starts, easily interpreted as individual pathology, was a common reaction to a lack of stimulation and autonomy: In short, to boredom.
I started to see it nearly everywhere.
Smoking, for example, provides the illusion of autonomy and creativity. The timing of the light up, the drag and the final flick away provide illusory moments of control. So called channel surfing, in which the holder of the remote control continually changes television channels, gives the illusion of newness, freshness, and the vain hope of satisfaction. Compulsive pen clicking, for heavens sake, can been seen as the endless beginning, ending, and beginning of the cycle of writing.
It is neither coincidence nor evidence of weak character that people in less interesting jobs have more trouble giving up smoking. It is for them a major source of apparent control and creativity.
On a broader level, technology promises to make work and life more fulfilling—our last and best hope for renewal. And to the extent that it is not externally imposed, probing the secrets of word processing, for example, does feel creative and productive. But how long can the most advanced macro retain its freshness and meaning once it becomes just another part of the job description?
Secretaries today can manipulate blocks of words and images with agility and speed worthy of science fiction. What does it do for them? Production line workers can turn out computer chips and potato chips in infinite profusion. But the jobs are controlled and designed so that even at Warp 7, its still ... boring.
So advanced, it's simple, brags the efficiency expert, paid well to reduce other people's work to a series of daily false starts without challenge or change.
Let 'em eat Marlboros.
Without a core of self generation and self expression, every technological breakthrough creates a glistening, metallic structure of promise that cannot help but rust.
Technologically, our workers are all dressed up and told where to go. Their jobs make perfect, and hence, no sense to them. Technology has filled its vacuum with nothing.
We have become a nation bored; a fidgety, de-skilled nation of channel changing pen clickers, trying desperately to rev our creative engines, swaying to a frighteningly simple beat.
If idle hands are the Devil's tools, an idled mind is hell itself.