The Value of Not Being Entertained 1/31/23

Thoughts with Richard Bleil

My research computer is up and running.  As I type this, she’s doing a calculation on three ammonia molecules in vacuo that, honestly, I don’t think will provide useful information, but until I try it I just don’t know.  I’m guessing that I’ll need to constrain distances and angles for my purpose, but this is how the previous calculations were completed, and I’m hoping that I can be consistent.

Be that as it may, when I first constructed it, I could not get it working.  I expected, and was correct, that there was a problem with the motherboard, but I did not have the diagnostic tools to verify my suspicions.  As such, I took her to BestBuy, where it was free to get it diagnosed and, as it turns out, repaired (except for the price of the new motherboard) since I am a Total Tech member. 

In BestBuy, they had a table set up, with a monitor, mouse and keyboard all set up with bundled cords so it’s easy just to plug the box in and see what happens when it boots.  In my case, nothing except for the error code display on the motherboard itself.  But it occurs to me that while I was there, I was falling into a habit generally associated with young people, and a very rude habit at that.  When the tech member disappeared in the back, I whipped out my phone and opened my social media, and started to post.  I didn’t know how long he would be gone, and when he returned and began speaking with me, I felt the need to finish that post before giving him my full attention.

As I reflect on it, I actually feel bad.  He deserved better from me.  I can try to justify it, but there’s really no reason for such rudeness.  As I think back on it, I started to think of what I did when I was roughly his age, about three hundred and twelve years ago.  Back then, we had phones that had to be plugged into our walls at home (care phones were becoming available but were rare and cost prohibitive), and computers connected to the internet through modems and were too heavy to carry with us everywhere we went.  In other words, we could have dragged our computers to BestBuy, but only clunky boxes that wouldn’t work without being plugged in any way.  In other words, nobody had a minicomputer, a way to reach out to our friends, and no entertainment in our pockets.  All we could do was wait for the technician, and when he showed up, actually speak with him.

As a society, it feels as if we’ve become terrified of the prospect of being bored for even a moment.  And obviously, I’m no better, so I’m not pretending like I’m immune to this phenomenon.  But it does make me think back on what we used to do with our time when that technician might be back in five seconds, five minutes or five hours.  We had no idea how long we would have to wait, and aside from standing up and looking around, there was simply nothing else to do.

Sure, sometimes in waiting rooms there were magazines, and we could read.  New York City, back when I was there (figure mid ‘90’s) was determined to be the most well-read city in America.  The reason was the subway.  I don’t think there are more troubled people in New York City per capita, but the area of the city was very small so there are more of them per mile.  Sitting on the subway, if you are not looking otherwise engaged, and God forbid you actually make eye contact, then you would have the joy of a traveling companion spouting insane theories.  So, people would bury their noses in books instead, so they could avoid eye contact and conversations, and now the insane theories are relegated to hyper-conservative “news” “personalities”.

I spent (and still do) a lot of time lost in my own thoughts.  Today I think about plots in the books that I’m writing, and, most often, about my research.  For a time, I tried to keep a little notepad with me so I could jot down thoughts that occurred to me, but it never quite took root.  Today, I’ll record thoughts on my “To Do” list on my phone, but this habit of just sitting and thinking was a golden opportunity for creative and productive thought.  Recently, on an extended drive, I started thinking about music theory (as I am trying to learn piano and guitar), and something just gelled.  And it did so as I listened to music that was very old and familiar making it easy to set it in the background as my mind swirled around the piano keyboard and principles I had recently learned in music theory (thank you, Catherine).  I could let my mind chew on this because I was basically bored. 

I recommend trying it.  Put down the phone and computer and television, rest your body and calm your mind and let yourself be bored for fifteen or twenty or thirty minutes.  See what arises.  Where do your thoughts wander?  How important is that thing that comes to the surface in an undistracted mind?  Can you chew on it in your mind long enough to make some sense or progress? 


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