Beck: I was thinking about all those Tinder people who are all on the top of a mountain. I swear to God, everybody’s always on a mountain or with a tiger.You point out that the people who want thrills are easily bored. For people using dating apps to try to find long-term monogamous relationships, presenting themselves this way, as thrill-seekers, is a weird strategy, right?
Mann: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a weird paradox. The people who present as most interesting are also the ones who are most easily bored. Because boredom is such a motivating force, you’ll do whatever to not feel it. You’ll climb a mountain, you’ll go wrestle that fish away from a bear or whatever. Statistics can show what people click on, and we do seem to be attracted to people who profess to love new things and new experiences.
Beck: I'm like, you seem exhausting. Hard pass.
Mann: Me too! If you actually think about the reality with that person, they’d be like let’s go kayaking now! Today!
I wonder if there’s this idea that if you’re with someone who’s always doing interesting things, you will become more interesting, too. Your life will be more interesting and more stimulating. When people talk about being bored in relationships, that also seems to have a contagious aspect. Like “Oh he just wants to watch TV every night, we are getting boring.” The “I” becomes a “we” really fast.
Beck: Yeah but what were you doing before? You were watching TV every night, I know you were.
Mann: I did get a chance to talk to the ad man behind the Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World.” That whole campaign is really funny because the Dos Equis guy is a person who would be so exhausting to hang out with, but he is compelling to think about. He’s humorously interesting. And the ad man had an ex-girlfriend who would jokingly tell him he was boring, and it made him madder than anything else. He hated being told he was boring. I get it! It’s a painful thing. It’s a mean thing to be told
Beck: Just like how we were talking about being bored can mean kind of anything, who's to say what you really mean when you're like “This person is boring”?
Mann: I agree with that. It could just mean they’re not to your taste. Or they’re annoying you.
Beck: Or they’re shy.
Mann: Yeah, absolutely.
Beck: So I really appreciated your savage roasting of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, this idea that if you can’t fulfill the basic needs at the bottom of the pyramid—shelter, food, whatever—then you don’t care about attaining the other aspects of human experience like love and purpose. Do you think there’s a notion in the culture that purpose or meaning or being interesting is just something that the well-off get to chase?
Mann: I do, actually. People do talk about boredom so much as a privilege, and it’s like, you’re just not thinking. Look at people on factory assembly lines, look at people in refugee camps, their lives are not luxurious by any means, but they’re dealing with these very boring conditions and they still want purpose in their lives. One of the things that felt really crazy to me was, when looking at people’s responses to refugees who said that they were bored in refugee camps, how mean people could be about that. Some of the comments on these articles that would quote refugees saying, “We have to wait in line for hours and hours to get stuff, it gets boring.” Just that word alone would trigger comments like, “Hey if you’re bored, go home.” People were just so upset by it.