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The Abolition of Boredom

Idle moments are few in the digital age—and that’s okay

By Thomas Chatterton Williams | April 18, 2018
Flickr/Raw Pixel
Flickr/Raw Pixel

The other day, an acquaintance of mine, who leads an exciting life in the Paris fashion industry, posted a ski photo on Instagram with the caption “NEVER BORED.” My life is not as frenetic as hers, but the post got me thinking about boredom, or the lack of it, in contemporary experience. I realized that I have almost forgotten what it feels like. The last time I was bored was 12 years ago. Perhaps it is simply part of growing up—life becomes fuller and moves faster with age and increased responsibility—but it also has much to do with technological change. I often complain about the impact the Internet—and, in particular, the iPhone—has had on my ability to concentrate on ideas or relate to my immediate surroundings, but it has also definitively eradicated any sense of boredom.

I believe that 2006 was the last time I was bored, because it was the last time I had a desk job in an office. It was also the year before the release of the first iPhone. I have the distinct memory of spending hours at my desk, shirking my paralegal work while scheming to become a writer—and reaching the limit of all that was interesting to me on the World Wide Web. We called it hitting the end of the Internet. It could happen after a few hours, after all of that day’s New York Times had been digested, along with the handful of other frequently updated websites. There was no Twitter at the time, and Facebook had only introduced its newsfeed feature that year. Email was the primary means of interpersonal communication.

Today, I open more apps in a day than I am able to close—and they keep accumulating like digital equivalents of New Yorkers massing on the coffee table. In addition to reading, I communicate through iMessage, email, Facebook messenger, Twitter, Instagram, and countless other platforms with everyone from old classmates to best friends and families to perfect strangers. I am never lonely. There is simply too much content, let alone contact, to ever again feel bored again. I know that this comes at a steep price, but I am also grateful. There is so much interesting stuff out there. We cannot begin to engage with it fully, and all in all, this is a good problem.

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