This lockdown reminds us we’ve forgotten how to enjoy boredom

Thursday April 16 2020

You could have seen millions of shoulders slump and heard a collective sigh of resignation when the announcement went out that the lockdown to check the spread of the coronavirus disease would be extended for another 21 days.

Many people are genuinely concerned about being able to put food on the table, or coin in pocket whenever or if we get to the other side of the river. But a lot of our angst can also be attributed to cabin fever, which often breaks out when people are confined in the same spaces for extended periods.

Many of us are still in denial about our irrelevance in the grand scheme of things in the universe. Under normal circumstances, we rise early, dress sharply and head out into the world to do things we consider to be important, even invaluable.

Yet two weeks into the lockdown, how many of us can say, with confidence, that the world is much worse off because we have not been able to go to work? Sure, the investment banker might have lost an opportunity to arrange a deal, the lawyer’s client might have missed the chance to apply for bail, and the newspaper columnist might have failed to share their recycled and microwaved nuggets of street wisdom.

But the really tragic thing would be the inability of the soldier, doctor, farmer, baker, butcher and – bless his soul – the brewer, to do their work. Stripped down to its bare essentials, life picks gravediggers over gold diggers.

When push comes to shove in the market for survival, we are mere bystanders. We might walk through the market stalls and inspect wares, call out to passers-by to come through, and even carry goods to the homes of the buyers, but we are at best marginal participants, not contestants.


One would think that people would be thrilled with the idea of spending a bit more time with their children and partners. Many families hardly share a meal together, with parents criss-crossing in the dead of the night as some return and others prepare for the soul-crushing early morning school runs.

It is possible that people have forgotten how to live, and how to enjoy being bored. The first, living, is about putting the foot off the pedal, letting the car coast to a gentle stop, and enjoying the views.

It is to enjoy life for what it is, a journey, not a destination. It is about smelling the flowers, lying on your back and counting stars, listening to the sound of birds. It is about chewing slowly and enjoying the flavours of life.

We have become too accustomed to living life at 50kph and hooting for the car ahead even before the lights turn green, that being asked to park and wait is painfully unbearable. What are we to do with all this time, we ask! Give me the rat race or give me death, we chant!

If the folks running along the Northern Bypass or crowding the narrow suburb roads were genuine fitness buffs, they would already know how to do planks. Many are simply running from their homes, and themselves. There’s something wrong, we can’t stay still.

A lot of the blame deservedly goes to the mobile phone. In the good old days, one could sit in solitude in a waiting room, or on a porch with a good book or just stare ahead and, in those moments of boredom, reflect on life and its various mysteries. Creativity springs from accepting and embracing boredom.

Not with mobile phones, with their dings and beeps and chimes and vibrations cheerily announcing the latest arrival of this or that. Each chime releases a dose of dopamine as a reward for reading yet another asinine joke, meme, video or fake news report “forwarded as received”.

One after the other, they trickle in unceasingly, feeding our insatiable appetite for excitement, etching the contours of addiction onto our brains until we just can’t live without our notifications. People who would happily survive two days without food can hardly survive 15 minutes with an empty phone battery.

We will survive the 21 days. And another 21 on top of that, should that be needed. We might have to beg for food or wear face masks to control our eating, but we will survive.

All we need is the humility to accept that the world will go on without us, then enjoy the small moments that life accords us. So close that laptop lid and switch off that phone for a few hours; those emails and WhatsApp messages can wait, but life can’t, and won’t. Enjoy boredom, it’s good for you.

Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s freedom fighter.
Twitter: @Kalinaki.