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Thursday, June 17, 2010

The iPad and our craving for distraction

There's an interesting piece by Peter Bregman in the Harvard Business Review called "Why I Returned My iPad". He loved it as a piece of technology but found it was occupying too much of his time, particularly that portion of his time that he usually spent staring out of the window, doing nothing in particular, just letting his mental wheels spin. This is true. Devices that are allegedly labour-saving simply make room for the introduction of further labour-saving devices.

This may be an early sign of the rehabilitation of that most underrated of human experiences. Boredom is due a comeback, I feel. I'm thinking particularly of that distinctively British variety of boredom celebrated in films like "It Always Rains On Sunday" and Hancock's "Sunday Afternoon At Home". It's that yawning prairie of time with nothing to do and nothing on the TV. The tedium of growing up in the 50s and 60s is what fired the Beatles and nearly everyone else worth hearing in British pop. For some people boredom is a powerful engine of motivation. Well now, thanks to the efforts of the entertainment industry, boredom has been banished.

Watching my own children growing up I've concluded that young people are rarely bored in the way I used to be bored at their age. This is because there's generally a button they can push that will provide something they can look at, listen to or play with, something that will stave off that boredom long before it sets in. This is good in some ways. In other ways it can result in a fidgety state of permanent distraction, an inability to just stare out of the window or go for a walk. In the near future this may become a social problem ever bit as alarming as drugs and drink.

However, I should make one thing clear. I still want an iPad.