Adieu, Boredom

Both Steve and Travis–independently of each other, I think–recently reached the same conclusion: we’ll never be bored again.

Steve writes about what’s available on his iPhone when he’s flying:

It includes a rented movie, three video and audio podcasts, two thousand songs, five Amazon Kindle ebooks, 10 games, 125 unread RSS items in NetNewswire plus dozens of cached articles in Instapaper, the New York Times and WSJ apps. It would literally take me months to go through it all. Plus once I landed my magical pocket computer filled up with even more – emails, tweets, feeds, etc.

Travis, likewise, itemizes what’s on his devices while taking a train to Denali National Park in Alask:

Instead, here’s what I had to content myself with: On my computer: hours of video: movies and TV shows and Web documentaries. Entire books, downloaded from Amazon. Computer games with shifting maps and dozens of levels. Yes, my battery would run out; there was undoubtedly an outlet on the train for me to recharge. But I wouldn’t bother Why would I, when I also had….

My iPhone: thousands of photos, hundreds of songs and a few audiobooks. And of course, offline email, SMS and a phone. Even if you hobble it: no Internet, no phone access, no GPS, there’s still plenty there to amuse and distract and fill your time.

I’ve been on six flights in the past week, and, like Travis and Steve, I’ve got a box of anti-boredom tools. I previously wrote about FORLORM: fear of lack of reading material. I used to carry an armload of books and magazines to combat the tedium of flights. Now my tools are a mix of the analog and the digital.

My usual regimen is, in order from boarding lounge to landing: read newspaper, complete crossword, read half a magazine, watch an hour of TV on my laptop, review notes (as I’m often flying to or from a speaking event), play games on the iPhone (mostly RSoccer09, a remarkably deep soccer game) then read the other half of the magazine. That’s usually more than enough for any domestic flight.

We are witnessing the death of boredom. On the other hand, we’re in an age of distraction. I don’t necessarily want to get all contemplative on an airplane. But we do need to be aware of the habits we’re forming, and how they might discourage healthy introspection.


  1. A couple of days ago I went for a walk for some errands. Almost always, I would take my iPod and headphones on such a walk, but this day I specifically decided not to, so I could walk and look and listen to the world around me, like I used to do in pre-iPod (and pre-Walkman, I guess) days.

    Also recently, I was driving for other reasons, and decided to leave the radio and the iPod transmitter and other sounds off. I opened the window and turned off the air conditioner.

    Both were surprisingly refreshing. I think I’ll do it some more.

    1. I frequently do that (leave my iPod at home) when I’m in a foreign place. Even if it’s rural or otherwise unpopulated, I want to experience the aural world around me, too.

  2. I had a similar experience as Derek. Today, coincidentally, I chose not to pull out my iPod touch during my long commute to work. Typically I will listen to podcasts or music, play any number of puzzle-type games, and/or read previously downloaded emails and news stories. I haven’t commuted ‘unplugged’ for a while and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed turning down the noise.

    So when does a habit cross the line from being a healthy, anti-boredom activity to being introspection-robbing? When evaluating this, I try to ask myself the question: If I were in a position to be able to interact with other people or do something that I consider to be productive, would I still choose to do Activity X? If the answer is no, I’d probably classify it as a time waster (or time filler). On the other hand, I wonder if there is a limit to ‘healthy introspection’?

  3. I used to find that flights were my most productive time, since they tended to lack distractions. If I didn’t want to see the one movie they were showing, I was stuck with doing the work that I brought. And I liked that. Now I have a selection of movies and TV programs, plus countless books & podcasts on my iPod and then there’s my computer too!

  4. My MP3 player has made it much easier to get out and walk. And if there’s a podcast I’m looking forward to, will even motivate me to go. However, there are times when I leave it behind. My body tends to let me know when I should bring it and when I should leave it.

    Perhaps we have the makings of the next reality TV show? Take a group, remove their electronics, and see how long they last before cheating?

  5. There’s something to be said for silence, unplugging and turning off. I don’t wear head phones when I walk and find that I have most of my writing ideas when I’m walking around doing errands.

  6. What I find funny now is that, occasionally, when I have a particularly interesting podcast on my iPod, I’ll pick a longer line at the grocery store so that I have a chance to listen to more of it.

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