We’ve won the war on boredom and that’s a bad, bad thing

My colleague Chris Rawson recently explained why end-users should think long and hard before installing a beta OS. It was a great piece 1 and contained this blurb from a frustrated iPad owner, pulled from an email sent to the TUAW tip line:

“I recently bought an iPad 2 right before a trip to Africa for a family vacation. Being right after the release of the iOS 5 beta 2, and being part of the development program, I [installed iOS 5 beta 2]. It worked very well for the first 2 weeks of my trip. Then at exactly the halfway point in my trip, the screen went black…Its just sitting in my backpack now, useless for the next week until I’m home.

Really a pain, because I’m still in Africa with nothing but my iPod nano and an internet cafe to entertain me for the rest of the trip.”

Forget the iOS install and focus on the huge problem illustrated by this user. He’s on vacation in AFRICA — a foreign continent — and can’t find anything to do without his iPad. “I’m still in Africa with nothing but my iPod nano and an internet cafe to entertain me for the rest of the trip.”

There isn’t one single compelling thing in all of Africa.

I don’t condemn this reader individually, because he has succumbed to an insidious epidemic. Specifically, we’ve cured boredom. And that’s a real problem. Writing for The Wall Street Journal, Scott Adams says:

“But wait — we might be in dangerous territory. Experts say our brains need boredom so we can process thoughts and be creative. I think they’re right. I’ve noticed that my best ideas always bubble up when the outside world fails in its primary job of frightening, wounding or entertaining me.

I make my living being creative and have always assumed that my potential was inherited from my parents. But for allowing my creativity to flourish, I have to credit the soul-crushing boredom of my childhood.”

I’ve expressed this idea in less articulate terms. The insistent nature of Twitter 2, Facebook and a thousand games in your pocket has produced a generation that never experiences a dull moment. That means we also never experience a contemplative moment, a reflective moment, a creative moment. Here’s a stellar post from Scott Belsky:

“Interruption-free space is sacred. Yet, in the digital era we live in, we are losing hold of the few sacred spaces that remain untouched by email, the internet, people, and other forms of distraction. Our cars now have mobile phone integration and a thousand satellite radio stations. When walking from one place to another, we have our devices streaming data from dozens of sources. Even at our bedside, we now have our iPads with heaps of digital apps and the world’s information at our fingertips.”

I know this makes me sound like a cranky old misanthrope but I don’t care. It’s impossible to generate a truly creative thought while the incessant barrage pelts us. It’s like complaining that we’re not dry while standing in a rain storm. You won’t dry off until you go the hell inside and get away from the falling water.

Turn off, be quiet and think. It’s OK, I promise.

  1. As usual. Chris rocks.
  2. Twitter is the real culprit. Here’s what Twitter is like for a person with ADD: “LOOK! LOOK! LOOK! LOOK! LOOK! LOOK!” It’s almost cruel.

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