Every Sunday when I open my New York Times, sifting through the various sections, I have a momentary pang of guilt when I come to the Book Review. I glance at it and feel the same as when I’m grocery shopping and fail to buy broccoli. Mind you, the feeling is fleeting, but the aftertaste lingers for much longer. There’s just something about ignoring the Book Review that seems like spraypainting a Renaissance masterpiece at an art museum. Or eating a half-dozen doughnuts and skipping your workouts for the next month.
But yesterday, I actually took the plunge and thumbed through the Book Review. And, to my pleasant surprise, it wasn’t really that painful. In fact, I found something interesting about, of all things, boredom. (Read it here; I leave it to you to consider the potential for irony in this situation.) I hadn’t realized that the concept of boredom is a relatively recent one. Seems as if the invention of a middle class and leisure time within the past couple of hundred years has also led to innumerable children and teens whining to their parents, “I’m bored.” Which, of course, has led to a variety of parental responses that are a variation of one my favorites: “God didn’t put me on the Earth to be your cruise director. Go find something to do that doesn’t involve bugging me or setting fires.”
As a professional communicator, there is perhaps nothing more frightening than the potential for boring your reader or listener/viewer, especially since people’s capacity for tolerating something (or someone) that bores them has been reduced to practically nil in our hypercharged, Twitter-influenced, instant feedback, don’t-waste-my-time society. There are just too many alternatives for people to turn to when something bores them — or when they even anticipate being bored. I’d like to think that the risk of boring people doesn’t affect the actual message being communicated in any given setting. [Think about the required safety briefings before a plane takes off.] However, I do believe that the risk of boredom dictates how the message is communicated, how long it is communicated, even who may be doing the communicating. [Again, consider that safety warning, only now flying on Southwest.]
Well, duh, you maybe saying by now (hope I haven’t already bored you). But letting fear of boredom take control of your communications is tail-wagging-the-dog time. Sure, you should make whatever you’re trying to communicate as interesting as possible. But sometimes the information we share with people just isn’t going to be as interesting as, say, the latest on Taylor Swift. Sometimes we just need to be informative or, heaven forbid, clear and concise. That should be our standard, not some Ritalin-deprived, knee-jerk rejection of something that doesn’t scintillate our sense of entitlement not to be bored. I know that I need to get over my inner child seemingly always demanding that I be entertained. What about you? It may not be the most fun thing in the world to do, but neither is eating broccoli.