Apparently one of the key themes in David Foster Wallace’s last unfinished novel „The Pale King“ is – surprise – boredom or being bored at work. In some of my early jobs, especially as an intern at the beginning of my career, one of the toughest things I had to deal with were those endless hours of utter boredom. And I’m not talking about being bored in a relaxed and lazy, comfortable way. I’m thinking about the real hardcore, excruciating boredom which is accompanied by that subtle, almost subconscious, underlying feeling of despair. A void you can feel burning in your gut if you care to listen carefully.
I have experienced some of the most beautiful moments of being utterly bored in a 9 – 5 job once upon a time in good old Paris, France. At that time I worked in a language school in one of those very sombre 1970s complex office buildings situated in a Paris suburb. The colour grey in these buildings was the predominant choice of interior design and in staff faces. Working there, I experienced again and again those very awkward office situations (literally „The Office“-like), such as having a very boring chat in front of the coffee machine with one of the IT guys. Imagine it being 3:30 p.m. on a rainy Tuesday afternoon in your office when it’s still such a long way to go until finishing time. Bored out of your mind by the excel lists you have been filling in all day (as you already did yesterday, and the day before yesterday, and the day before…), you decide to get yourself a nice cup of Senseo coffee and run into some geek and watch him / her preparing his / her coffee, fiddling with one those Senseo pads. Of course you start exchanging some nice plaisanteries (because both of you are a bit embarrassed by the situation) and then the small-talk action just painfully and very slowly fades and dribbles away and you feel a little more embarrassed and then you realize suddenly that time has just stopped. For a few moments there you are locked in a sort of time vacuum that is completely devoid of any sense. Nothing is literally happening. You stare into the void until the stupid noise of a printer or fax machine suddenly gets you out of it.
So, being mindlessly bored is not a good thing. That’s a fact. Sometimes you come across those articles in magazines and newspapers, where they say that our lives have become too fast and full of endless projects and horrible deadlines, and that a lot of us experience burn-outs and suffer from depression because we cannot handle all the stress. They sure are dead right about that. Stress – It’s the other evil extreme. But boredom is definitely not a desirable state of being either. It’s not a luxury. It’s not something to long for. Boredom sucks. It eats you from inside out just like stress does – but in a very slow and cruel way. So if you come across one those people who are always working on 47 projects at the same time telling you that they would LOVE to be bored from time to time and that they don’t even know anymore what that feels like – please tell them kindly that it’s not that great a feeling. Boredom equals emptiness. When bored, time expands infinitely. And when combined with endless repetition, boredom really becomes a serious problem.
I don’t know how many hours I have been waiting in front of elevators while at work. At least a week or so I’d say. I will probably work for another 36 years before retiring. One day, I will be rocking in my rocking chair smoking my pipe, looking back and realize that I spent several months or so of my life just waiting for and using elevators. That’s the kind of industrial, manufactured boredom that you don’t even recognize at first. But when you contemplate it for a while it becomes a little creepy. Birth-school-work-death-kind of creepy.