by Sumner Ford
I find myself missing boredom. It used to be a common part of my life and often seems like a feature of childhood that necessarily recedes as gray hairs appear. Spending my summers at Pine Island has taught me otherwise. When we consider the camp experience, boredom is not one of the values espoused by Clarence Colby, Dr. Swan, Jun Swan, Monte Ball, or Ben and Emily Swan. Only recently has it come to be seen as a benefit of PIC.
Pine Island hasn’t changed. For my younger self, it was a place to escape the boredom of a house in the boonies with elderly neighbors, no internet, and a rabbit-ear antenna that occasionally picked up the Saturday morning cartoons. As anyone over 20 knows full well, our world has changed a bit since then. So much is gained with each technological improvement; the generalized drive to consume information during every waking moment seems to be quickly approaching 100% efficiency. While Pine Island changes little from year to year, our world turns on a dime every month.
Not a moment of our lives is wasted, or at least it feels that way. Podcasts on crime, history, news, and sports replace the silence or static of rural car rides—and some people listen at double speed to fit in more! The agitation of waiting in line melts away as those in the queue disappear into the pocket portal that is their smartphone.
When I return home from camp these days, I find that my readjustment time has doubled. The transition used to be easier. At camp, I’m attuned to the quiet moments when there’s nothing to do but let my mind wander.
Those “dull” moments, in which the only activities are daydreaming and observing, are vital to my happiness at Pine Island, largely because the boredom only lasts for a minute before my mind turns inwards. Without the temptation of a phone, the transition from boredom to contemplation is seamless. Out in the world, it fascinates me to watch people join a line and immediately pull out their phones. What would Pine Island’s activity line be like with phones? Less chaotic, perhaps, but gone too would be the organic interaction, the chance to stare off into space, the time to examine and analyze thoughts.
In the weeks following camp, I’m acutely aware of the benefits of letting person-to-person interaction replace screen time. Still, the temptation to pick up my phone during a dull moment often overcomes this sort of macro-level understanding. It’s an ongoing project, building structures into my life that force me to leave the phone at home, or simply in my pocket.
Pine Island doesn’t teach this; we don’t have a “limiting technology” activity, and that’s probably for the best. But in its own subtle way, Pine Island still teaches us all a powerful lesson. Every year I watch campers, previously terrified of a summer without the latest and greatest game, realize the benefit of boredom, the gift of space, and the joy of relying on others.
Back home this fall, lost in thought on a hike, I wondered how many anxieties were addressed and great ideas cultivated while kayaking across Great Pond, sitting in a hammock, or waiting in line to enter the dining hall. How many of those moments would have been lost had a phone, computer, or Bluetooth speaker been available nearby?
Our understanding of boredom is changing as people listen to music while they hike, check scores while in line, and facetime rather than write. As a society, we’ve dismissed so many previously valued activities as inefficient. At Pine Island, we believe giving our minds the space to breathe and contemplate is a perfectly efficient approach, and that boredom—while only a small part of the PIC experience—is most definitely beneficial.
I’d like to enthusiastically endorse the “View from the Doctor’s Cabin,” and recommend to all Pine Islanders the supportive view expressed by Eckhart Tolle, whose talks are widely available on the internet, and whose first book, “The Power of Now,” would be a valuable addition, I believe, to the library in Honk Hall.
—John de Forest, PIC 1957-61