August 8, 2011

"What change would you expect to see in a world that has declining levels of boredom and therefore declining creativity?"

Scott Adams asks:
For starters, you might see people acting more dogmatic than usual. If you don't have the option of thinking creatively, the easiest path is to adopt the default position of your political party, religion or culture. Yup, we see that.

You might see more movies that seem derivative or are sequels. Check.

You might see more reality shows and fewer scripted shows. Right.

You might see the best-seller lists dominated by fiction "factories" in which ghostwriters churn out familiar-feeling work under the brands of famous authors. Got it.

You might see the economy flat-line for lack of industry-changing innovation. Uh-oh.

You might see the headlines start to repeat, like the movie "Groundhog Day," with nothing but the names changed. We're there.

You might find that bloggers are spending most of their energy writing about other bloggers. OK, maybe I do that. Shut up.

You might find that people seem almost incapable of even understanding new ideas. Yes.
The theory is: We need boredom.


The Crack Emcee said...

What change would you expect to see in a world that has increasing levels of boredom and therefore declining creativity?


Lucius said...

Is this from slate? haven't clicked.

Could be salon, NYT, jezebel, huffpo or some other venue where I'd anticipate this kind of Johnsonian prose with the piercing, erudite analysis of an Allan Bloom, a Germaine Greer, or Norman O. Brown. But I'm thinking slate . . .

John henry said...

The reason reality shows are so popular is that the writers guild has made such asses of themselves.

They are not only expensive, they are difficult to work with.

You do not need members of the Writers Guild to do reality shows.

John Henry

Lucius said...

Or I could figure out who writes "Dilbert" . . .

Well, egg on my face. I suppose I can give him a pass.

But when I read people writing stuff on the internet with checklists and "yup"s and such, I think to myself: if this dude was eating dinner across from me, I'd like to unload a glass of water in his face.

wv: mulin Yeah, I'm mulin that while I eat my pasghetti

Fred4Pres said...

That list is an express lane to boredom.

Of course, these things come in cycles. You need a praire fire to stimulate new growth. You need stagnation, to lead to boredom, to stimulate new ideas.

Anonymous said...

You might see comic strips covering the same ground over and over for 22 years running.

Scott M said...

Didn't The Renaissance in an age that, by our standards, was a helluva lot less boring?

traditionalguy said...

He has a point.

IMO creativity comes from our minds that are part of our soul. When we wear them out with flash inputs, and no downtime, our souls lock up and refuse to play anymore.

The speed of information and knowledge availability today literally overwhelms men's souls.

Unknown said...

Althouse -

"The theory is: We need boredom."

And Scott has been providing it for years. His strip was funny in the early nineties, but stagnated quickly into rehash after rehash.

Paul Zrimsek is on the nose. Someone who hasn't produced any new riffs in years isn't someone I'm going to listen to about how uncreative society is.

Cartoonist, redraw thyself.

Unknown said...

traditionalguy --

"The speed of information and knowledge availability today literally overwhelms men's souls."

I haven't noticed that effect.

Unknown said...

If "necessity is the mother of invention," boredom is the mother of trite columns on the necessity of boredom...zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

pm317 said...

Necessity is the mother of invention, so they say.

So boredom is the father of creativity?!

G Joubert said...

Me, I'm trying to reconcile his point with the concept of ennui.

Scott M said...

"The speed of information and knowledge availability today literally overwhelms men's souls."

I started in radio in 1997, which is to say, right as the internet and digital production were becoming a real force in the industry. Prior, for decades, audio production was done with a combination of "carts" (think eight track tapes), reel to reel cut and splices, and sheer talent and timing.

Those guys did truly amazing things, but it was drudge work and took a LONG time to mix together anything more than a couple of simultaneous tracks. When the pro-level software suites that allowed real-time digital editing of multiple tracks happened, it didn't fry us. It unleashed us.

I look back on some of the extremely high-end production work I did for clients...night club spots come to mind...with easily 8-12 tracks, dozens of sound effects, music cuts, voice, etc...would have been mind-bogglingly difficult "back in the day" of analog production.

I think you only fry if you allow yourself to dip too long in the hot vegetable oil of multimedia overwhelm.

Ann Althouse said...

Actually, I don't identify with the point he's making at all. It seems to me that creative people do things that inherently avoid boredom. Now, noncreative people these days are also not bored, if, as Adams theorizes, they are kept busy by video games and iPods and stuff like that. But if they didn't have that stuff and got bored, would they start innovating and creating? Or would they listlessly stare at the TV and/or ingest substances?

Now, it's possible that some genuinely creative people get sidetracked into nonproductive pursuits that are made possible by modern technology. But before that, there were always books. There's no end to the book-reading you could do instead of writing or -- whatever -- inventing something.

I'm Full of Soup said...

The problem with you negative Nancy's is you see teasers like this and you expect to be bored.

Well you could be wrong in this case- Adams writes periodically for the WSJ and he is an interesting writer and usually has a unique and funny point of view [full disclosure - I did not read this one yet]

Lance said...

Mickey Kaus used to harp on this subject, how after Lewinsky, Bush v. Gore, 9/11, etc. the country needed a breather. Someone who'd settle things down. He stopped saying it right about the time the Democratic Presidential primary campaigns got under way in 2007. I wonder why?

Henry said...

Samuel Johnson used to complain about boredom back in the 18th century. But this was a man who killed time doing chemistry experiments while berating himself for not working on his encyclopedia. Exciting experiments with opium and nitrous oxide didn't seem to hinder the romantic poets from their creative work.

I think people are more bored now than ever and thus more in need of distraction. I cannot explain TV programming any other way.

And to be blunt, Adams is pretty much historically wrong. You want dogmatism? Try the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre in 1572. You want reality shows? How about bear-baiting. You want derivative entertainment and fiction "factories"? Try the gothic novelists. Jane Austen parodied them in 1818. You want a flat economy? Try world history up to 1750.

Clyde said...

The old Chinese curse is "May you live in interesting times." And we certainly do. Every time you turn around, it looks like another rotary cooling device is about to get hit by the fecal matter. The only advice I can give is to try to stay upwind.

Scott M said...

The only advice I can give is to try to stay upwind.

Six of one, half-dozen of another. On that side, you get sucked in. At least downwind, you can try and dodge.

Chip Ahoy said...

I recall an article in Smithsonian a long time ago about a woman working on her doctorate and living alone outside the walls of some castle. The article was titled "In the Shadow of the Castle" or something like that. The idea was to experience firsthand Medieval life for an extended period. She said that one thing she was not prepared for was boredom. Most of her day was consumed with water. Bringing it up from from river, heating it, etc. Through the drudgery, her mind would revert to songs that she knew. She made up things. Created stories in her mind. Made spiritual connections drawing significance between every little thing that happened and her own internal life. One day she was scooping water into a bucket when a butterfly flitted onto her shoulder then lifted again and fluttered to her other shoulder, then flew off. She wrote that she was emotionally overwhelmed in that moment, as if she had been knighted by nature and she burst into tears kneeling there at the riverbank.

I do not experience boredom.

As example, a friend of mine owns a very large wheat farm in SW Nebraska. I went there to see what he keeps talking about. It's not one single thing, but rather several portions of land sections. A section being and area 1 mile X 1 mile, where dirt roads form a grid at each mile. He showed me how he grooms his fields by tractor that pulls an 84 foot implement. The tool ripped out invasive weeds and exposed their roots to the sun. The tractor has an enclosed cab, air-conditioning and CD player, all the modern things, but it's still quite complicated to coordinate the gears to slow for a turn while lifting the implement for the turn, then drop it again immediately after the turn. It can be a bit nerve wracking. I always thought I could do a better job of keeping perfect rows and make more excellent turns than what I observed on farms by driving past them, and now finally I had my chance to prove it. It took my full attention just to make a proper turn, to stop midfield and untangle a weed if it didn't drop out (otherwise the weed seeds would be spread across the field), so there is a lot of climbing up and down to the cab, back and forth from the implement, to concentrate on a point in the distance and to keep a perfectly straight line, while also keeping an eye on the implement being dragged behind, and all the rest. At length, my friend said to me, "Chip, I've shown this tractor thing to a lot of other city people before, but you are the only person so far who stayed with it all day. Everybody else is totally over it in five minutes."

Jeff with one 'f' said...

Bernard Sumner was asked why Manchester and (to a lesser extent) Liverpool produced such an explosion of influential bands in the late 70s and early 80s. His answer, (I paraphrase): "There was nothing to do. So we taught ourselves how to play music".

Kurt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kurt said...

In her comment, Ann Althouse observes: "It seems to me that creative people do things that inherently avoid boredom. Now, noncreative people these days are also not bored, if, as Adams theorizes, they are kept busy by video games and iPods and stuff like that. But if they didn't have that stuff and got bored, would they start innovating and creating?"

It seems that Nobel-prize winning poet Joseph Brodsky would disagree. In his 1989 commencement address at Dartmouth College (later published as "In Praise of Boredom" in his collection of essays titled On Grief and Reason), Brodsky argues that boredom is an inescapable fact of life that we need to learn to appreciate, and that even creative types are not immune:

It would seem, then, that the best remedy against it would be constant inventiveness and originality. That is what you, young and new-fangled, would hope for. Alas, life won't supply you with that option, for life's main medium is precisely repetition.

One may argue, of course, that repeated attempts at originality and inventiveness are the vehicle of progress and, in the same breath, civilization. As benefits of hindsight go, however, this one is not the most valuable. For if we divide the history of our species by scientific discoveries, not to mention new ethical concepts, the result will not be very impressive. We'll get, technically speaking, centuries of boredom. The very notion of originality or innovation spells out the monotony of standard reality, of life.

The other trouble with originality and inventiveness is that they literally pay off. Provided that you are capable of either, you will become well-off rather fast. Desirable as that may be, most of you know firsthand that nobody is as bored as the rich, for money buys time, and time is repetitive. Assuming that you are not heading for poverty, one can expect your being hit by boredom as soon as the first tools of self-gratification become available to you. Thanks to modern technology, those tools are as numerous as boredom's symptoms. In light of their function--to render you oblivious to the redundancy of time--their abundance is revealing.

dbp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dbp said...


Actually, I was all day at a swim meet and had only the WSJ as reading material.

That same section had far more interesting articles on biological globalism.

The Real Story of Globalization
Trade is an economic activity, but its greatest impact may be biological. Charles C. Mann on stowaway earthworms, far-flung potatoes and the world made by Columbus.


An Interracial Fix for Black Marriage
Black women could find more partners across the race line—and it might just spur more black couples to wed

Automatic_Wing said...

You might see comic strips covering the same ground over and over for 22 years running.

Oh, snap. Thread winner!

virgil xenophon said...

The armed services provide good evidence of this; the Navy being the prime example: Lots of long, midnight watches carried out in relative solitude with nothing to do but be alone with one's thoughts. The Navy historically seems to lead the other branches in innovative thinking by a wide margin--resistance to Billy Mitchell and airpower notwithstanding. (Yes, I know, "Other then that Mrs Lincoln, how was..")

IIRC, most of the successful innovative legal challenges to the status quo to milregs from everything to pay & performance to the UCMJ have been filed by Navy personnel. And a not-surprising majority of those and innovative ideas in general concerning military operations have come from the submarine service (sorry, don't have the sources handy right now to cite.) A classic example is evidenced by the fact it was a submarine commander in splendid isolation underwater, NOT an Army Air Force pilot or a Navy Carrier Captain or even Navy pilot that came up with the concept in WWII right after Pearl Harbor of using Army B-25 medium bombers flying off aircraft carriers (something that had never been contemplated let alone tried) to strike back at Japan.

Yes, there is much to be said for lying on one's back starring at the ceiling in isolated contemplative limbo..

Saint Croix said...

We need boredom.

Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times."

Actually, I don't identify with the point he's making at all. It seems to me that creative people do things that inherently avoid boredom.

That's why he's saying we need boredom. To inspire the artists to create to avoid boredom.

I think he's wrong. A lot of great art was created in the 1930s and 40s, at least in cinema, as a response to interesting times. As an artist you can rebel against anything. You can definitely rebel against interesting times.

Scott M said...

I think he's wrong. A lot of great art was created in the 1930s and 40s, at least in cinema, as a response to interesting times.

Not as an explosion of creativity as the art's state increased technologically and/or innovation in camera tricks, dolly shots, cranes, etc? It was almost all virgin field at that time (especially the 30's) wasn't it?

Saint Croix said...

I think he's on to something in regard to business, though. When business is bad (i.e. interesting times), you don't spend any money on R & D. Because you're in a fight for your life.

If the government is after you (interesting times!), R & D budgets are slashed, and you don't hire new people.

It's when things are boring, and you and your competitors are doing the same ol', same ol', that you might shake things up by hiring new people and trying new ideas.

In other words, you take risks in boring times.

But if your times are interesting, you take zero risks and hunker down, until all the fun/hell is over.

Saint Croix said...

Not as an explosion of creativity as the art's state increased technologically and/or innovation in camera tricks, dolly shots, cranes, etc? It was almost all virgin field at that time (especially the 30's) wasn't it?

No, they were making movies in 1902. Your major cinematic advances was in the 1920's. Sound came along in the late 1920's.

The great art in the 1930's and 1940's (I'm thinking of the Astaire/Rogers musicals, the Marx brothers, Howard Hawks, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, the Busby Berkely musicals, W.C. Fields, Charlie Chaplin, the list goes on and on) took advantage of technology. But it's completely wrong to say that these guys couldn't have survived in the silent era.

Technology made a difference, sure. But their art was a direct response to the Great Depression. They saw it as their duty to entertain people (and later, to support the war effort), and they were totally focused on that. And they made the best cinema the USA has ever made, I think.

Casablanca (my favorite film) was a direct response to Nazi Germany. Which was interesting times indeed.

Christian said...

You'd also see more kids listening to their parents.

More kids excited to go to school - remember how in the last month of 3 months vacation you were always ready to go back?

n.n said...

There is some merit to his theory. When we are bored, our minds tend to wander (e.g., daydreaming) and wonder. Unfortunately, the emergence of creative thoughts falls into two classes: fertile and sterile. The former advances human civilization, while the latter provides for temporary amusement.

People who are focused, make good managers, workers, and, in general, good technicians. They are useful for maintaining a state. However, if we desire to change state, then we need to wander. This is an example of genetic programming or evolution, where the states are often unpredictable; but, in simultaneously following different paths, eventually, the stable states are discovered and can be evaluated for their fitness.

Einstein, in his early boring clerical vocation, let his mind wander and wonder, and he managed to unite many disparate theories into something more cohesive and productive than its constituent components.

traditionalguy said...

Boredom is nothing new around you.

The great religious revelations came to men living out in the desert.

Desert life makes you realize that there is nothing in life necessary except for food, clothes, and transport. Everything else is vanity.

DADvocate said...

It seems a lot of people are easily bored. Working out is boring, listen to iPod. Walking is boring, listen to iPod. Taking car trips is boring, passengers watch movies, driver listens to iPod. Working is boring, listen to iPos. And so it goes.

Many people don't do listen to iPods during activities, or otherwise. About the only time I get bored is when someone is trying to entertain me, bad TV shows, repetitive music on the radio, second rate movies. 99% of the time, I find the real world interesting.

LordSomber said...

It's not just boredom we need (which can push frustration into creativity) but also downtime and quiet reflection.

Scott M said...

quiet reflection

I spell that l-o-n-g-c-o-m-m-u-t-e

ken in tx said...

If boredom is the answer, sign up for a class that meets on Friday afternoon around 3 or 4. Not only will you get enough boredom to fire your creativity, you will live forever because the class will never end.

fivewheels said...

I used to be a Dilbert fan in the earlier days, but I lost all respect for Adams' opinions when I picked up a book of his at my sister's house and found that he believes in Oprah's secret, or some similar kind of affirmation b.s.

He wrote stuff down like "I will make a million dollars" 100 times, and apparently he thinks the reason he did make a million dollars is because he wrote it. It seems like the kind of thing Dogbert should be making fun of, not something he should be promoting.

Jose_K said...
Found at instapundit

Paddy O said...

Wasn't the whole Roman Empire basically a story of trying to keep the masses entertained, because when they were bored they tended to become dogmatic, revolutionary, discontent, licentious?

The emperors knew that to let the people become bored was to invite a whole lot of civil unrest.

That's probably also why rioting is very rarely tied to low unemployment. People tend to get highly fractious and feisty when bored. The riots in London are not coming from people who are coming home and thinking dogmatically after long hours at the office.

Indeed, the leisure class has never really been known for its many innovations. Sure, there was Jefferson and Franklin and the other wealthy leaders in early America with great contributions, but at the same time they were a highly dogmatic revolutionary bunch.

For the lower classes, the unemployed are not typically at the height of their creative contributions, after all.

Anonymous said...

This proves that Plato was right. It's all about divine inspiration. In a world in which the Divine is dissed, there's very little inspiration to create heavenly art/music or write marvelous novels/poetry/plays. All that's left is the coarsely pedestrian, which is the corollary of Aristotle's view that perspiration and not inspiration is the creative source.

Dan in Philly said...

Scott Adams needs to stop judging other by his own standards. He's smarter than probably 99% of the world, so why does he whine about how stupid and uncreative everyone else is to him?