[-empyre-] Is boredom a luxury? WAS: Welcome to May: Boredom: Labor, Use and Time

B. Bogart ben at ekran.org
Sat May 9 06:05:45 AEST 2015

John, the last thing you ask is huge and I think gets into the
implication of the theme and I was hoping the discussion would get to:
"...why it is that boredom arises as a kind of problem to be solved. Or
is boredom a problem? Is it an existential state that merely describes
or something we're always seeking to resolve?"

I have not read it, but this seems related to the book "24/7 Late
Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep". My interpretation of the summary as
described to me (and thus could be totally off-base) is that it's about
how capitalism is a system of exploitation where we are expected to
constantly contribute to the economy. If we are not working, then we
should be consuming. 'Off' time becomes the opportunity to consume
entertainment. The economy benefits from us being constantly engaged in
little 'entertainment' tasks like games and puzzles. Mind wandering and
sleep are wasted activities. There is some implication of value here,
that the labourer's tasks are such that sleep is not required, and rest
is not needed, i.e. they are menial. So what does this mean for tasks
that require a lot of thinking and (in Dietrich's sense) mind wandering
to accomplish, e.g. creativity, innovation, etc.? In some cases mind
wandering does improve performance on some tasks, like creative thinking.

Is boredom a luxury? Do only those that have the time to step back and
think about the big picture get to escape the trap of constant
consumption? Is boredom a requirement for critical thinking? It seems to
me that being constantly engaged in tasks (or even microtasks) would
erode one's ability to step away and just think. Perhaps the reason why
we are so likely to turn away from our thoughts and engage in tasks is
because we don't want to see the big picture. We don't want to
critically reflect on what is happening because that means questioning
who we are, why we are here and why we do what we do? Are these
distractions addictive? Do they reduce our ability to move our attention
from task to imagination?

Does this glut of distraction enable systems of exploitation to treat us
even more like automatons? I'm thinking about Human Computation where
people do super-computer-like tasks through playing games online for

I'm thinking about the exploration / exploitation tradeoff in machine
learning. The more an algorithm explores a space the more risks it may
take and the more likely it'll find solutions no one has seen before.
This is similar to Dietrich's "spontaneous mode". If it explores too
much it may loose what it has already learned and never find solutions.
The more an algorithm exploits, the more it builds on what is already
known and thus the less risky it is. Since it searches so close to what
is already known, it will unlikely to find new solutions. This seems
like Dietrich's "deliberate mode".

Life without boredom may be life of exploitation (depending on existing
expertise) with little exploration (accumulation of new expertise).
Exploration is left only for those with the time and wealth to do so.

Perhaps we are meant to be bored because boredom gives us the
opportunity to change.


On 15-05-08 10:57 AM, John Stadler wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Hi Ben,
> I've really enjoyed reading about boredom from your perspective, and
> it makes me keenly aware of the discursive perspectives from we
> approach this concept. Part of what makes this engagement so
> interesting is bridging across our fields. Here is a quotation from
> your first post I found very interesting:
>> I expect that boredom is highly correlated with mind wandering, where
>> (as John says above) we find ourselves overly able to predict the world
>> around us and thus loose interest in it. Under the conception of the
>> Integrative Theory, times of boredom would cause shift of attention away
>> from the stimuli towards these internal simulations. Once decoupled from
>> the constraints of external information, simulations are free to
>> progress beyond the fixed context of the here and now.
> I’m curious to hear more about the correlation between mind-wandering
> and boredom. From your perspective, is all boredom mind-wandering, or
> could you distinguishes the two more? I always get stuck at the point
> of entry in trying to define the concept, and I'm not sure I'm
> satisfied with my own idea of boredom just yet, so I'm curious to hear
> more from you on this matter. Is boredom an awareness of
> mind-wandering? I’m interested in the moment the subject recognizes
> herself/himself as bored and am curious for what accounts for this
> recognition, especially if mind wandering is such a prevalent part of
> everyday existence.
> I’m wondering, too, whether it would be wrong to locate boredom
> outside of the self, as in my project where I isolate representations
> as themselves boring (there has to be a subject to make that claim),
> but maybe I should rethink that. Under your model, would it be fair to
> say this phenomenon is always a feedback loop, and that boredom isn’t
> perhaps inherent to the subject or to representations, but rather a
> continual process between a subject and that subject's interpretation
> of outside stimuli (especially in their capacity to form patterns that
> become routinized)?
> And from your second post:
>> Because of this interplay between Dietrich's two modes, I think the key
>> is balance and maintaining the freedom to mind wander and being
>> task-oriented. I think this probably relates to continuous distraction.
>> In these moments of mind wandering many of us reach for the mobile
>> device to check messages, play a game, or text and find a
>> inconsequential task to accomplish. Perhaps the more distracted we are
>> the less we learn to balance mind wandering and task orientation.
> Is there any sense for what this balance might be between mind
> wandering and task orientation (if we take boredom to be a kind of
> excess of mind wandering), or what the phenomenon for one who is
> overly task-oriented would be called? Would that just be a workaholic?
> I'm wondering if there is an equivalent condition, affect, or
> adjective that exists within culture for the other side, and why it is
> that boredom arises as a kind of problem to be solved. Or is boredom a
> problem? Is it an existential state that merely describes or something
> we're always seeking to resolve?
> Thanks,
> J
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