Commuters, take time and embrace the boredom

Stop hooking yourselves up to electronic devices, and try living in the moment


For reasons I don't need to explain, I have been living the life of a commuter recently. I am fortunate that my commute takes me through the verdant Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire landscape, past the gently rolling hills of the Chilterns, and the service is quick and very reliable. It is as a study of human nature, however, that I find this daily ritual most enriching.

I am particularly struck by how completely unaware many people are of their casual anti-social behaviour - talking loudly into their mobile phone about "consolidation opportunities in that sector" (that was only this morning), or bringing the sickly stench of fast food on the train with them, or - an especial bugbear - the people who, on a crowded train, sit on the outside seat of two, place their belongings on the seat next to them, and are then visibly discomfited when you make them move their stuff so you can sit down.

More than that, however, is the detachment of the average commuter from his or her experience. This morning, I couldn't take my eyes off the landscape. Oxfordshire, under a cloudless sky, looked like Provence, green, still, restful and sweeping. The early traces of a heat haze hung over well-tended pasture land. You couldn't see anything other than indigenous trees. Not a pine in sight. Horses stood quietly in paddocks. It was a vision of the English countryside that was so perfect as to be almost implausible.

I stared out of the window in awe, and as deep as I could be in contemplation. And then I realised: I was the only person in my carriage who was living in the present. Every other person was hooked up to an electronic device. Some were switching between laptop and mobile. Even the woman who was reading a book had earphones attached. Not a single passenger on the 7.10 to Marylebone was taking a blind bit of notice of the majestic scenery. It literally passed them by.

I was heartened, however, by the discovery that I am not alone in finding the view from a train both captivating and relaxing at the same time. The news yesterday that, among the entertainment options offered by British Airways on their long-haul flight, is a seven-hour film of a train journey from Bergen to Oslo may is the perfect antidote to the need for non-stop simulation.

From a camera mounted on the front of the train, the film chronicles the steady progress  through the Norweigan countryside. Nothing is edited out - not even the long stretches of pitch black when the train is going through a tunnel - and there is no commentary or fancy effects. It is, say BA, "mesmerising". They have been inspired by the number of people who enjoy staring, somewhat absently, at the video flight map which chronicles the plane's journey. (I have often found myself looking at it, wondering who an earth would be interested in what the outside temperature is at 35,000ft.)

The point is this: boredom is good. Thinking time is essential, and creativity comes sometimes as a result of stopping, staring and contemplating. Living in the present makes you a more rounded person. There is no need to be connected to anything other than your environment. Try it.  

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