There’s a rather lovely prompt that’s been going for a while, from the one of Irene Waters, a memoirist (is that even a thing?) from Australia, which she calls Times Past. The link to the latest prompt is here.
She is after the biggest change we have seen in our lives, asking us to tell our readers the generation from which we come. I’m a runty little baby boomer, born at the back end of the 1950s.
It would be obvious to mention technology – computers and latterly smart phones have utterly transformed the way we interact and consume information and ideas.
But for me, the biggest change I see is in our relationship with time. We have become temporally poor, especially in the developed world. Technology has exacerbated this issue but it isn’t the cause.
When I began my working life we communicated face to face, by letter or by phone. There was also this thing called the telex, a weird machine, a bit like the teleprinter at the end of the sport’s report on a Saturday that spewed out the football scores. Then came the fax, with its waxy Izal toilet paper and fading messages, followed by word processors, email and now the plethora of social media.
But even before these innovations, the working day was extending. I left the office, routinely at 5.30 in 1979 when I started. The office building was locked shut at 6. By 1984 the building I was in shut at 8 and on several occasions I had to hurry to leave before being locked in. I did my first all-nighter in 1987, three in a week in 1992 and lost count by the millennium.
We had our first TV in 1961 when there were 2 channels, a TV capable of receiving the third channel in 1969 (it had been going for a while by then), breakfast TV in the 1980s and a fourth in the early 1990s. And then satellite hit and the number of channels exploded; TV went around the clock. Sport that never made it on screen, became commonplace; ditto films.
By contrast I ate my first meal out (ignoring a fish and chip supper) at a pub in Lymington in January 1970; by 1984, I had enjoyed a range of international cuisine in various restaurants and to take away.
Clubs and bars opened later and later. Concerts like Glastonbury grew exponentially. I travelled more widely; my first trip abroad was to France in 1976, my first flight in 1980. By 1990 I had visited 17 countries over three continents.
I could fill my days, and nights with a constant diet of action, whether work or play.
It was the same when I had children. The number of organised events I ferried them to was enormous but when I talk to parents of school age children now I feel I got away with things lightly. Indeed, with fears about safety driving parents to oversee so much more of their children’s lives than before, there is less room for children to be without some sort of activity.
The death of boredom, that’s the biggest change. I mourn its passing. The ennui of a summer’s afternoon with nothing to do, no one to do it with and no equipment to be used in the creation of that nothing. Yet out of those longueurs came ideas, make-believe, stories and so much more.
And better still came frustration and disappointment and a sense of loss. Not a waste of time – it was only a waste if there was something that you could be doing but weren’t. No it was just time, pure, unadulterated, unspoken-for. Because those were stimulants in their own right, the stimulus to be creative.
It was dreadful, being bored. So what did you do? You went to find out ways not to be bored. Yourself. Not through parents or family, or teachers, or organisations who charged you, or even your friends.
No, it takes a village to raise a child and an imagination to overcome boredom.
Nowadays, when I have so many things I can do, I enjoy those moments when I have nothing. On a walk with Dog I stop and notice a tree that I’m sure I’ve not seen before. It’s been there 70 plus years and I’ve walked by it for 25 and yet I’ve not given us the time to get to know each other. I need to. I owe it to both of us.
People meditate, are mindful, do yoga, go on retreats and I’m sure these are good for their mental health – well, they tell me so. But that’s not the same as being bored rigid, with nothing to do that will stimulate you. The boredom that a child faces on long school holidays.
“Are we there yet?”
The classic moan from the back of a car of the bored child. Nowadays there are ipads and colouring books and interactive games and bluetoothed podcasts and heaven knows what. And if they aren’t working their oracle it’s because the over-stimulated little darling is fast asleep, catching up. Whatever happened to staring out of a window and wondering about the lives of others?
I don’t exactly miss boredom, but I’m glad I experienced it in its rawest, purest form. At least that way I know how to be grateful that I know what I’m missing… And it did take me to places I might not otherwise have gone to.