Shocking Cure

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Quick quiz: what makes you bored?  I’ll zap you with an electric shock if you try saying this column. More on zapping in a moment.

Studies show that your mind basically makes a cost-benefit analysis when your mind starts wandering.  You’re bored when you know you could be or should be doing something more worthwhile.  What’s the cost and what’s the benefit of the situation?

The cost-benefit stuff happens to be a pretty good defense for every high school student who does poorly in class.  If they’re bored in algebra, it’s because their mind is telling them they could be doing something soooo much better. 

Hey Dad, I’m failing algebra but you should be proud of me because I’m like an economist weighing the costs and the benefits of this boring class and coming to a rational conclusion.  

Dad: Huh?

Kid: Yeah, time is a limited resource.  Humans have less and less of it as they age.

Dad: Huh?

Kid: If I waste the time in that class, I am also wasting opportunity.  Opportunity to be doing something productive.

Dad: This is bull.  Think about what you’re saying.

Kid: You want me to think?  You’re like my algebra teacher.  You think ‘just thinking’ is easy?

I gotta tell you about this experiment, the kid says.  People in a study were told to go in a room and just think for 15 minutes. There was nothing in the room but a little zapper that would give them a little electric shock.  But they didn’t have to touch the zapper.  It was just there.

Most of these people couldn’t just sit there and think.  They gave themselves a jolt just to break up the boredom.  Thinking was so boring, they figured it’d be easier to kill the 15 minutes with an occasional shock.

One dude shocked himself 190 times in 15 minutes!  Which is nuts, but he was not bored.  He was told to think and couldn’t stand the idea.  He figured thinking was a waste of time and opportunity.  He figured he’d shock himself, I guess as his own test to see how much he could take.  He seized the opportunity.

It turns out the Dad is not bored by this bull.  In fact, he wants to know how he could get his own zapper. 

Yea, a zapper.  You sit in traffic or at a community board meeting.  Or you’re exchanging small talk for more than 5 minutes.  Boredom starts weighing on you.  You want to scream but instead you go to the zapper.  A little electric charge sends a jolt through your body and you’ve almost forgotten the traffic or just how excruciating the current conversation is.

It’d be great, wouldn’t it, if you’re stuck in a mindless, achingly dull conversation and you suddenly zap yourself and spasm a bit.  The person inflicting the boredom gets freaked out and runs away. 

I don’t know where you get these zappers, but if you’re talking to me and I suddenly walk over and stick my finger in the wall socket, you’ll know you’re killing me.

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