Coronavirus, boredom, and the Millennials

The problem started immediately: busy bars, packed streets, crowded beaches, ironic admonitions about social distancing.  Millennials heeded expert advice to stay indoors and socially isolate themselves about as well as their high school financial literacy class before taking out a six-figure loan for a four-year saturnalia at a posh private university.

"St. Patrick's Day partiers hit the town over officials' pleas amid coronavirus outbreak," read one headline in the Chicago Sun-Times.  Some money-conscious, health-heedless Millennials see adventurous opportunity amid the mass hibernation, buying up cheap flight fares.  Former Disney channel starlet Hillary Duff reprimanded her peers for refusing to abide by the quarantine convention, issuing a vulgar PSA to her fishbowl-eyed Instagram followers: "To all you young millennial a------- that keep going out partying: go home.  Stop killing old people please."

The Wall Street Journal, which probably has a Millennial readership on par with Reader's Digest, ran a piece "A Generational War Is Brewing over Coronavirus," about youthful defiance of COVID-19 closings.  Feeling immune from the worst effects of coronavirus (its fatality rate, namely), young adults flocked to bars and nightclubs, refusing to take seriously warnings to stay home.  The Journal reports: "illegal 'lockdown parties' popped up in France and Belgium, and campuses in the U.S. lit up for end-of-the-world dorm parties."  A typical Friday night at any given college, in other words.

Then came the crackdown.  Seeing that social nudging and shaming weren't enough to keep watering holes dry, state authorities are shuttering all businesses but groceries and pharmacies.  Millennials will have to belt their cheap pilsner swill from the comfort of their shared apartments. 

The reluctant shut-ins are now bargaining with the clock to make the minute hand move faster.  Many are complaining of the modern affliction of listlessness, otherwise known as boredom.  A cottage industry of advice columns on how to deal with coronavirus-induced malaise has cropped up.  My Millennial coevals have increased their social media postings in frustrated response to excess time, spitballing ideas on how to fill the empty hours.  Most are mundane, make-work chores: repainting rooms, hanging wall adornments with kitschy hang-in-there phrases, alphabetizing bookshelves.  Some are picking up where they left off in learning an instrument.

But all are admitting to a condition they haven't felt since their primary-school days: feeling bored.  In a depressing way, this lack of pressing concerns is worse than contracting a potentially fatal pathogen.  The Millennial drug of choice isn't cocaine or Adderall or psychotropic pills or any of the addictive substances you hear about on the nightly news.  It's distraction — distraction with friends, distraction with devices, distraction with tossing back craft brews, distracting with racking up "likes" on pictures of their warmed-over Scotch egg at brunch. 

Theodore Dalrymple describes boredom as a "much-underestimated cause of social pathology" that can lead to destructive behavior, like violence and substance abuse.  In this case, after causing reckless disregard for the immuno-compromised (a sciency word for those with weak constitutions), boredom is making Millennials unveil the shallows of life they lap around, fretting over superfluities. 

Instead of using the forced sabbatical to brush up on Elia Kazan's cinematic classics or peruse Tom Stoppard's stage oeuvre or even taking a stab at completing a Trollope novel (my preferred method of "wasting" time), the young are whiling away the minutes, aimlessly tossing them into the black void of the internet.

The naked confessions of ennui are revealing of another worrisome Millennial trend: a lack of adult responsibility.  School closures have parents scrambling to find care for their school-free children.  Mandatory telework sounds great until you have a toddler bawling to be read If You Give a Mouse a Cookie for the twenty-seventh time in a half-hour.

And what about around-the-house upkeep?  Honey-do lists are inexhaustible; newly freed up blocks of time could be used to make a dent in them.  There are still leaves from last fall in a sylvan patch of my backyard that won't decompose for another century.  Perhaps I'll have a chance to clear them out now.  Or fructify the beds of soil that line the front of our house.  Or trim the azaleas, to use that hackneyed phrase.

Most Millennials don't have such prosaic concerns, mainly because their rate of homeownership continues to lag behind older age groups.  Without proper property and progeny, their responsibility extends as far as keeping hunger and the landlord at bay.  A dearth of duty means more time and money for going out, testing the limits of their livers' alcohol-processing enzymes.

When the pandemic eventually passes, and the "weak piping time of peace" returns, Millennials who found themselves at a loose end for much of the confinement will re-enter the world, hardly for the better.  They may feel slightly more grateful to fill a bar stool once again, a pang of guilt for taking simple pleasures for granted.  But they'll set to distracting themselves with effulgent marquees and novelty cocktails.  This opportunity for introspection will be wasted.

The problem started immediately: busy bars, packed streets, crowded beaches, ironic admonitions about social distancing.  Millennials heeded expert advice to stay indoors and socially isolate themselves about as well as their high school financial literacy class before taking out a six-figure loan for a four-year saturnalia at a posh private university.

"St. Patrick's Day partiers hit the town over officials' pleas amid coronavirus outbreak," read one headline in the Chicago Sun-Times.  Some money-conscious, health-heedless Millennials see adventurous opportunity amid the mass hibernation, buying up cheap flight fares.  Former Disney channel starlet Hillary Duff reprimanded her peers for refusing to abide by the quarantine convention, issuing a vulgar PSA to her fishbowl-eyed Instagram followers: "To all you young millennial a------- that keep going out partying: go home.  Stop killing old people please."

The Wall Street Journal, which probably has a Millennial readership on par with Reader's Digest, ran a piece "A Generational War Is Brewing over Coronavirus," about youthful defiance of COVID-19 closings.  Feeling immune from the worst effects of coronavirus (its fatality rate, namely), young adults flocked to bars and nightclubs, refusing to take seriously warnings to stay home.  The Journal reports: "illegal 'lockdown parties' popped up in France and Belgium, and campuses in the U.S. lit up for end-of-the-world dorm parties."  A typical Friday night at any given college, in other words.

Then came the crackdown.  Seeing that social nudging and shaming weren't enough to keep watering holes dry, state authorities are shuttering all businesses but groceries and pharmacies.  Millennials will have to belt their cheap pilsner swill from the comfort of their shared apartments. 

The reluctant shut-ins are now bargaining with the clock to make the minute hand move faster.  Many are complaining of the modern affliction of listlessness, otherwise known as boredom.  A cottage industry of advice columns on how to deal with coronavirus-induced malaise has cropped up.  My Millennial coevals have increased their social media postings in frustrated response to excess time, spitballing ideas on how to fill the empty hours.  Most are mundane, make-work chores: repainting rooms, hanging wall adornments with kitschy hang-in-there phrases, alphabetizing bookshelves.  Some are picking up where they left off in learning an instrument.

But all are admitting to a condition they haven't felt since their primary-school days: feeling bored.  In a depressing way, this lack of pressing concerns is worse than contracting a potentially fatal pathogen.  The Millennial drug of choice isn't cocaine or Adderall or psychotropic pills or any of the addictive substances you hear about on the nightly news.  It's distraction — distraction with friends, distraction with devices, distraction with tossing back craft brews, distracting with racking up "likes" on pictures of their warmed-over Scotch egg at brunch. 

Theodore Dalrymple describes boredom as a "much-underestimated cause of social pathology" that can lead to destructive behavior, like violence and substance abuse.  In this case, after causing reckless disregard for the immuno-compromised (a sciency word for those with weak constitutions), boredom is making Millennials unveil the shallows of life they lap around, fretting over superfluities. 

Instead of using the forced sabbatical to brush up on Elia Kazan's cinematic classics or peruse Tom Stoppard's stage oeuvre or even taking a stab at completing a Trollope novel (my preferred method of "wasting" time), the young are whiling away the minutes, aimlessly tossing them into the black void of the internet.

The naked confessions of ennui are revealing of another worrisome Millennial trend: a lack of adult responsibility.  School closures have parents scrambling to find care for their school-free children.  Mandatory telework sounds great until you have a toddler bawling to be read If You Give a Mouse a Cookie for the twenty-seventh time in a half-hour.

And what about around-the-house upkeep?  Honey-do lists are inexhaustible; newly freed up blocks of time could be used to make a dent in them.  There are still leaves from last fall in a sylvan patch of my backyard that won't decompose for another century.  Perhaps I'll have a chance to clear them out now.  Or fructify the beds of soil that line the front of our house.  Or trim the azaleas, to use that hackneyed phrase.

Most Millennials don't have such prosaic concerns, mainly because their rate of homeownership continues to lag behind older age groups.  Without proper property and progeny, their responsibility extends as far as keeping hunger and the landlord at bay.  A dearth of duty means more time and money for going out, testing the limits of their livers' alcohol-processing enzymes.

When the pandemic eventually passes, and the "weak piping time of peace" returns, Millennials who found themselves at a loose end for much of the confinement will re-enter the world, hardly for the better.  They may feel slightly more grateful to fill a bar stool once again, a pang of guilt for taking simple pleasures for granted.  But they'll set to distracting themselves with effulgent marquees and novelty cocktails.  This opportunity for introspection will be wasted.