The Right Coast

August 10, 2005
Are we bored yet?
By Tom Smith

This over at InstaMegan, is worth reading. Boredom is rife, even in high paying jobs. Bruce Bartlett, well known economist who held a high post in the Bush 1 Treasury Department, once slipped out to a movie in the middle of the day, because he was just so . . . bored. He ran into another high Bush official at the movies. It was awkward. But at least he has broken the silence.

Boredom is a scourge and should be talked about. There may be little for it. Schopenhauer, a truly great if possibly evil philosopher, complained of it bitterly, and said (more or less) it was one of the reasons it would be better never to have been born. I would not go that far, but I hate being bored.

I worked in a grand-sounding but mostly powerless job in the "White House", the OEOB actually, for a year, but I found it fairly fun, though it had boring days. It was fun because I was surrounded by academic economists, some on leave from faculty posts and others who were graduate students. (This was the Council of Economic Advisers.) There was lots of talk, people worked on academic papers, and we stuck our nose in policy issues only if they looked interesting. Some pompous git from the White House Counsel's office tried to tell us we could not use government time or typewriters to work on academic papers, but we ignored that. My boss's secretary once found me asleep on the couch in my office (you should have seen my office -- marble fireplace, couch, elaborate plasterwork . . . ah, government), but that was after lunch, and I had every reason to be sleepy.

The Post article makes it sound like not having enough to do is the main cause of boredom. No doubt it is a major cause, but it is possible to be overwhelmed with work, and still horribly bored. I was a corporate law associate for 3.746 years, and though the first 9 months or so were fairly interesting, it got boring after that. I was astonished that I could be under so much pressure, and yet so bored, at the same time. Nobody likes to be bored, but I'm convinced I hate it even more than most people.

One of the great blessings of academic life is that it is a lot less boring than most jobs. Not as exciting I imagine as Naval Aviator or firefighter, but at least you are master of your own time, except for a few hours a week, and can work on your own projects. I still get bored often enough, but at least it is my own fault when I do, and I can do something about it with a little effort.

I had more to say on this, but as I'm starting to get bored, it's time to do something else.