Life on pause - lockdown boredom experiences

We hear from an art historian on boredom during lockdown...
22 February 2021

Interview with 

Julian Haladyn, OCAD University, Canada


photo of a man looking bored


Art historian Julian Haladyn from OCAD University is fascinated with boredom and recently expressed his views on covid lockdown-related boredom, in an article on The Conversation website. And Katie Haylor asked Julian to elaborate...

Julian - It's a little bit of a mash between personal experience, as you say, and trying to reconcile some of the work that I've done with boredom in the past. This idea, if we could define boredom at it's most basic as a kind of a lack of interest at a very core level of the self, what I've noticed with a lot of my colleagues, friends, and in lot of the media-related texts, even critical texts that I read, there seems to be a general sense in which this is no longer just a singular event. You know, you go to a movie you're bored, you get up and you leave. Whereas I find with at least a couple of my colleagues, I've had conversations with them about bingeing television shows, and they would tell me that they just can't maintain a level of interest in it. And so I say, "so you stopped watching it?". And they say, no, they just started watching five others. And there seems to be this tendency to - what I talk about in the article is - a folding where instead of one experience, it becomes multiple over and over. And for me, this is why I ended up deciding to kind of give it its own little term Covid boredom because of this very unique and interesting way of folding different experiences of boredom on top of each other.

Katie - You are an academic and you teach students, you relate boredom in the article to this fear of missing out on things that are going on or might be going on in the future.

Julian - I will say, I do think that it relates to more than just younger students and, um, young scholars. I think it is a larger phenomenon. Uh, I know a number of, uh, retired professors who feel like, you know, especially at an older age that they're missing out on vital years of their lives. But in terms of younger students, this has been a phenomenal issue in the way that it's asked questions of them that I don't know - I've never had to deal with those. And that is, you know, do I go on to grad school now? Do I put it off? Do I do my PhD? Do I put it off? And there is a general sense in which for a lot of these students and some of them have spoken out and there are a lot of articles written on this, they really do feel like their lives are completely being put on hold. And this is not only in education, but you know, again, through many articles, talking about problems of dating, talking about issues getting on with your career, doing basic things, all of these are paused in a really key way.

Katie - You mentioned the idea of life being on pause. And from what I understand, you're actually focusing on this idea of a paused kind of here and now, and you're writing a book about this. So what are you hoping to achieve?

Julian - To capture something that feels very unique to me. In the research that I've done on writing and previous pandemics I haven't seen it either. There seems to be two different kinds of writing on pandemics. There seems to be ones that focus on how this came about, diagnosing it, giving a pre-history, and then those that are predictive that look to the future, the kind of past. And in Covid I found this exactly the same. I've read a number of books on this. And at some moment in time, almost all of the authors will say "in a post-Covid world" or "after Covid". And it became really a big interest for me to not think about that and to try to accept where I am now and write about that. And the concept of the pause became the kind of fulcrum for me because of the fact that it was a term that's been used a number of times in the media. It was used by my own institution. We were put on pause. The national hockey league, the NHL, they were put on pause. And just this idea of the pause button, which is just such a fascinating concept. You hit pause, and then the assumption is when you hit the pause button again, everything just continues where it was. And I think that very problematic conception is leading to a lot of the psychological issues with this prolonged pandemic that a lot of people are faced with.

Katie - I guess the reality is a lot of things aren't going to be the same when you un-pause life, as it were.

Julian - Exactly. And I think at some level we all know this and I think it's becoming increasingly a reality, but at the same time, making that reality part of our own lives is not easy. And I think until we're forced to do it, until there is a post-Covid world, all we can do is just imagine. And there's a lot of writing on imagination in pandemics and the way that imagination runs wild, and it can do pretty crazy things, which is where boredom also comes in as a kind of foil for imagination.


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