The Most Important Skill in the 21st Century

This world is a trap of perfectly-customized entertainment: We need boredom

Alberto Romero

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I’ve been thinking about entertainment. And about boredom. And about how my body, which is always seeking new things to watch and play with, sometimes self-saturates to the point that it wants nothing. Just be there, bored.

And I realize that we’ve forgotten what that is. Boredom is dead. And we have killed it. It belongs to a past we are happy to have left behind; a past we thought we’d never yearn for. But we do. The modern world is scarily satisfactory to our immediate desires. It has been for some time; I’m saying nothing new here. It rarely, if ever, encourages us to develop — or simply feed — “the part of ourselves that likes quiet,” as David Foster Wallace said.

It’s interesting not because we haven’t learned a thing (do we ever?) but because we are doubling down on our mistakes. We’re building a future that, being better than any past time in keeping us alive and meeting our wants, is getting us into a definitive trap that’s like Dracula’s kiss: sweet but mortal. Artificial intelligence, the central theme of this newsletter, might be the final piece (especially the generative type) of that dystopian puzzle. To illustrate what it looks like I don’t even need to resort to science fiction or ungrounded predictions — everything below is real today to some degree. The rest is coming.

In our post-boredom world, you endlessly chat with anyone you want, dead or alive, real or imaginary; you personalize your virtual girlfriend (or boyfriend) never to question you or push your boundaries through the existence of their own; porn is customized to meet your wildest demands and satisfy your darkest fantasies; your AI assistant knows everything about you to the point that it no longer needs you to know how to do exactly what you want and need; your emotions are taken care of not by self-introspection but by your robotic therapist; the videogames you play adapt to your feedback in real-time to enhance the experience to immerse you into a world that’s no longer shared with anyone else; you create art and literature that doesn’t need your presence but fulfills your yearning imagination.

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