In the past couple of years or so, I have to admit that I haven’t been as regular on Second Life as I wished. There are a lot of reasons for that, most of which work-related, and I have to include my own academic studies on that category as well. As a result, that also means less blogging, less socialisation, more isolation, and sticking to answering more boring emails from clueless clients or colleagues requesting help. But fundamentally it means a lot of less time for “myself” — what other people usually call “leisure”.
My current health issues, which are likely related to working too much, have forced me to pretty much stay at home and forget all about work, whether I wanted it or not. This gave me some pretext to blog a bit again, and, by doing so, reflect quite a lot. It also made me realise the meaning of four things: boredom, work, leisure, and self-accomplishment. They’re closely interrelated.
I tend to tell everybody that I don’t understand the meaning of the word “boredom”. I mean, I understand it intellectually; I can look up the definition in the dictionary (“an emotional state experienced when an individual is without any work or is not interested in their surroundings”). But it doesn’t make any sense to me. There is no single instant in my life where I was “without any work” in the sense of “not having anything to do”. There is always something to do: from house chores, to university assignments, to work for my many clients, to answering emails, to spending time with friends, offline or online. Every single second of my life is crammed full of activity and it never stops; in fact, the amount of “things to do” tends to accumulate and grow exponentially, as more and more demands are constantly being piled on me. I always felt things that way.
I remember that in my late teens I already suffered from an extreme intensity of “things to do”. It became so overwhelming that at some stage I started taking notes about things to do when I had time for them on forthcoming weekends or vacations; I had a notebook near my bed where I would jot notes, some diagrams, a few paragraphs — about novels to write, things to learn, books to read, even games! (At that time, I was involved with a group of friends engaged in pen-and-paper role-playing games). The notebook quickly got filled up, and it was with great sorrow that I suddenly realised that even working 24h a day during the forthcoming vacations I would be unable to even make a small start on all those projects. So it was with some frustration that I had to postpone a lot of those projects to the next vacations. But at some time the list grew so much that I realised I had to finish school first, and only at university — which everybody described to me as being “easy” and “full of time of doing nothing and throwing wild parties” — would I have any hope to start looking back at those postponed projects and ideas.
Well, university finally came, and obviously I realised it was nothing of what I expected, in terms of intensity of demands. I supposed I was in a wrong university! While most of my friends idled along in boredom on other universities, on my own campus, except for the rather long summer vacations, we were always way too busy with work. It’s not as it was very demanding — except for studying for the exams! — but it tended to absorb pretty much all free time. And unfortunately that only meant that the list of “pending projects to do when I was bored and had nothing else to do” just grew and grew…
I think it was at the end of my university time, when I got a job as junior researcher for a while, that I came up with something I had written when I was… 8 or 9 years old. At that time, my daddy showed me the huge data room for one of the major research computers in my country (at that time, there were only two dozen computers or so around — half on universities or research labs, the rest churning out printouts for the phone and power companies. What impressed me was a very primitive form of a text-chat interface, using a teletype device (you know, from the times before CRT screens were popular…) — it would hardly qualify as “Artificial Intelligence”, but it certainly impressed a 8-or-9-year-old like me. When I went back home, I asked my daddy how the computer knew how to speak, and why it only spoke English; my father then just explained to me the rudiments of computer programming, and I remember quite distinctly that I spent the rest of the way devising instructions to “tell” the computer how to speak in Portuguese. It was perhaps the first software programme that I ever wrote, and it even had a name — Dialog. Not very original, but how was I supposed to know it wasn’t original? The fun bit is that it became part of an university assignment over a dozen years afterwards, and I thought that it could be used as a further project in natural language processing, “once I had time to do that”. Aye, it went back into my ever-growing notebook with “things to do when bored”, as well as the original and incredibly naive piece of paper I wrote when I was 8 or 9 years old 🙂
Then I thought that perhaps when I had a 9-to-5 job, I could finally have a few hours per day to allocate to all my endless pending projects. I quickly found out that a 9-to-5 job actually means waking up at 7 and coming back home after commuting by dinner time, and being so tired that I would just brainwash myself watching TV (I still had a TV back then) or reading avidly something; I would be too tired to do anything else. And weekends, of course, were spent with family & friends that I had no time left to meet during the week. A few years after I started to work, I was immediately persuaded to get engaged in a pioneer project, related to the then very young Internet. That meant spending all my “rest time” during the weekdays at a friend’s place while we first planned and then implemented our project; it also meant coming back at home after midnight, going straight to bed, and wake up at dawn for another day at my regular day job. Weekends meant more time free for this new enterprise. Those days pretty much defined my usual routine, to which I stuck since I was 25: 16-hour-a-day workdays, including weekends, with the rest of the hours spent commuting, eating, and sleeping; it also meant forfeiting pretty much everything that remotely sounded like “vacation”. There simply was no time for anything; and I couldn’t even start to understand how people got time to get bored — I didn’t have enough time to do what I wanted, not even to rest a bit! Boredom, as a concept, utterly failed to register on my radar. It was clearly something that “happened to other people”. You need to have time to be bored, and time was certainly something I never had.
So, again, all personal projects got postponed, this time sine die.
In a sense, I’ve been waiting for the past 33 or so years to have some time free to deal with some of my own projects! Even though these days I forgot where I put the notebook, the habit of leaving notes to myself to do things when I have time persists (they just became digital). For instance, on my blog, I have a lot of “drafts” which I never managed to complete; some are from… 2007, and thus completely outdated and irrelevant 🙂 And I estimate that to complete all my personal projects, I would need to live something like 200-300 years at least…