The Most Important Skill in the 21st Century
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.