Saturday, February 7, 2015

Sherlock Holmes's unexplored method: boredom.

What is one of the first things a modern Sherlock show likes to do to show us what a genius Sherlock Holmes is?

Show us how bored he is.

We can all relate to being bored, even if you haven't had moments of boredom lately, thanks to Netflix streaming, your smartphone, those silly little games people download and dive into during off moments . . . well, you remember being supremely bored at some point in your life, probably as a teenager.

In wandering through podcast world this morning, I stumbled across New Tech City's Bored and Brilliant project (because I was bored, of course), and something clicked.

Sherlock Holmes's boredom was, perhaps, the most important method in his entire "world's greatest consulting detective" bag of tricks. In fact, Sherlock's boredom was the reason for the rest of his bag of tricks.

"I was never a very sociable fellow, Watson, always rather fond of moping in my rooms and working out my own little methods of thought," Sherlock said of his college career, and why did he describe those days as "moping?" Because he was bored. He didn't mix with his fellow students because his interests and theirs weren't alike, and without that social element, boredom set in. And what do we do when boredom sets in?

Daydream. Mix and match the contents of our brains in a desperate attempt to find something to engage us. Work out any problem that we can pose for ourselves in whatever fashion we can possibly conceive.

Sherlock Holmes's entire career came out of boredom. In fact, Dr. Watson's second career as Sherlock's chronicler also came out of boredom as well, during those days he was lying around Baker Street trying to recuperate from the health issues of his military life: "My health forbade me from venturing out unless the weather was exceptionally genial, and I had no friends who would call upon me and break the monotony of my daily existence. Under these circumstances I eagerly hailed the little mystery which hung around my companion, and spent much of my time endeavoring to unravel it."

Boredom must be a very great thing, to inspire such men as those.

And why do you think we have all the marvelous things produced by the last hundred years of Sherlock Holmes fandom? Just ask any Sherlock fan waiting for Moffat, Gatiss, Cumberbatch, Freeman, and company to get another show out . . . once you are focused on something that keeps you wildly entertained and that thing goes away, you get bored. And when you get bored, you start getting creative on the very subject whose absence left you that way.

It's kind of silly that we hate on boredom so much, as seemingly painful as it can be, because boredom has given us every bit of Sherlockian culture, from Conan Doyle sitting bored in a slow medical practice to this very blog. (Okay, maybe we can hate on boredom for some of the things it has produced.) But as Tech City's week on "the lost art of spacing out" examined, boredom is a pretty important part of the human way of getting things done, a part of our lives we should consciously embrace in a world where distraction comes far too easily.

Boredom was, after all, the method at the core of all of Sherlock Holmes's other methods. And probably the one most accessible to any of the rest of us, no matter what our chosen field of endeavor.


  1. Absolutely logical. In fact, I get bored from the very moment I wake up in the morning