The 14 3/4 Biggest Ideas of the Year July/August 2010

Boredom Is Extinct

People used to talk about boredom as though it were a thing, not a mood—a sort of physical object. It “descended” on you. You “escaped” from it, you “fled” it. Or you “dispelled” it, as though it were a fog. This wasn’t always easy to do; sometimes the boredom was just too thick, too “heavy.” Trapped in the back of a car on a long road trip, stuck on a flight without a book or magazine, or seated beside a dull stranger at a formal social gathering, the best you could do to “lift” the boredom, to muster a bit of leverage against its mass, was to imagine that you were somewhere else (or perhaps even someone else), doing something else.

But suddenly, this old-fashioned trick has become unnecessary. Thanks to Twitter, iPads, BlackBerrys, voice-activated in-dash navigation systems, and a hundred other technologies that offer distraction anywhere, anytime, boredom has loosened its grip on us at last—that once-crushing “weight” has become, for the most part, a memory. Even the worst blind dates don’t bore us now; we’re never more than a click away from freedom, from an instantaneous change of conversation partners.

But what else has been lost? Creativity, just maybe. Because when one thinks about the matter—though we really have no reason to think about the matter, or to think about anything since boredom disappeared—the keypad and the touch screen now do the work that used to be the business of the daydream. Remember daydreams? No, of course you don’t. How could you? Three new text messages have just arrived and another three, in a moment, will go out.


14 3/4. Reefer Sanity
by Joshua Green
7. Information Wants to Be Paid For
by Walter Isaacson
14. It’s Too Easy Being Green
by Kai Ryssdal
6. The Kids Aren’t All Right
by David Leonhardt
13. Teachers Are Fair Game
by David Brooks
5. Bonfire of the Knuckleheads
by Jeffrey Goldberg
12. The Rise of the Drones
by Martha Raddatz
4. The Power of No
by Michael Kinsley
11. Obama Is No Liberal
by James Bennet
3. Boredom is Extinct
by Walter Kirn
10. The Triumph of Free Speech
by Jeffrey Rosen
America Is No. 2
by James Fallows
9. The Catholic Church Is Finished
by Ross Douthat
1. The End of Men
by Hanna Rosin
8. Deficits Matter
by Megan McArdle
PLUS: More Ideas of the Year
From TARP to sleeping with Tiger Woods
Presented by

Walter Kirn is the author of Up in the Air.

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