Tech and Boredom

This is a great piece. As I like to tell my students, “Boredom is a lost virtue.” And it’s been lost thanks, in part, to the way technology has consciously adapted to protect everyone from boredom.

What is clear from our vantage point today is that the people who were pushing photography, telephones, radios, movies and other consumer goods did so by exploiting shifting mores around vanity, loneliness and boredom. But they also exacerbated them, reinforcing the belief that people should present their best faces to the world and the conviction that they should always be in contact, and never be bored or unstimulated.

In turn, these ideas have become central to our daily lives. We harbor fewer reservations about vanity than our ancestors. We turn to our phones because we have become accustomed to celebrating ourselves and to seek out the affirmation of others. We are also obsessed with our phones because so many of us regard loneliness and boredom as pathologies with potentially negative consequences for our health. As a result, these emotions are now considered feelings to be cured rather than endured. Anxious about being alone and worried about being bored, we use our phones to seek out constant companionship and unending entertainment.

To put down our phones, or at least to use them more wisely, we should be attendant to this history and how Silicon Valley exploits its legacy. We take up social media’s invitation to post selfies and indulge our vanities because we’re conditioned by history to do so. Conversely, because we worry more about loneliness and boredom than our ancestors did, we’re more apt to turn to our phones since they promise to relieve these afflictions.

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