The Death of Boredom

The war for your attention has given us an era of unparalleled content choices

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

When was the last time you heard somebody say they were bored?

The last recollection I have of someone telling me they were bored was via an MSN message. (MSN was like iMessage of the 2000s, for those born in the 2000s.) That might sound peculiar in the context of 2019, particularly because it’s difficult to imagine a time when you could have access to the internet while simultaneously being bored. Remember the days of dial-up internet? Oh, how things have changed.

Television still essentially works the same as it did 20 years ago, except there has been an explosion in the quantity and quality of content. The TV season is no longer September to May, with the doldrums of summer reruns in between. There is just one 12-month season, with higher peaks and fewer valleys. Hollywood celebrities famous for being in films, such as Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman, are flocking to the small screen in “prestige” shows. There’s a reason this era we’re in is often referred to as the era of “peak TV.”

The Information Age stretches forward with no visible end in sight.

There’s also the content behemoth that is Netflix. There is quite literally something new being released on Netflix every Friday, whether it be an original series, an original movie, an original documentary, or an old show the company has licensed. When it comes to content distribution, Netflix has very little chill.

If you like spending your time soaking in news about the world, you might have noticed an explosion of options in that category as well. Traditional glossy magazines may not be doing as well, and the publishing industry as a whole is still not a money-printing business, but there has never been more to read. Part of this most recent boom can be attributed to an increased necessity for journalism (see: Donald Trump, #MeToo), but much of it is due to technological development. The information age stretches forward with no visible end in sight.

This brief list doesn’t even include films, burgeoning markets like the $43 billion video game industry, or the nascent podcasting industry. In practically every industry where the main product is content, there has been an explosion not necessarily in quality, but absolutely in quantity. For consumers, this raises what is perhaps the defining question of our time: “How do I identify, distinguish, and choose between the ever-expanding sea of options?”

This was not a problem even 10 years ago. Now it has become truly difficult to be bored. And even if you somehow get to a point where you can’t find a show to binge or a movie on Netflix to play in the background, there’s still a smartphone in your pocket that gives you access to Instagram, YouTube, Spotify, Fortnite, and more — including this website.

That abundance of options also gives us insight into another reality of our current time. While TV networks used to compete with other TV networks, and movie studios competed with other movie studios, one could argue that there is now only one single, large-scale competition for eyeballs. Netflix, Facebook, NBC, and the New York Times are not similar companies, but in an age where we’re not lacking in things to do, these companies are all after the same thing: your attention.

In practically every industry where the main product is content, there has been an explosion not necessarily in quality, but absolutely in quantity.

This war for your attention also explains the deluge of content. Those aforementioned companies don’t just want your attention—they also want to retain it for an extended and consistent amount of time. HBO doesn’t just want you to stop by for Game of Thrones and then leave. It wants a long-term relationship with you. It wants to keep you enthralled, which is why it releases more content than you could possibly keep up with. This is why HBO is moving into Monday nights. It’s why the New York Times has an ever-growing Cooking section. Heck, it’s why Netflix has podcasts about Netflix and views Fortnite as a bigger competitor than HBO.

The war for your attention is a zero-sum game. If Netflix retains four hours of your day, that’s four hours HBO can’t get. The way for companies to remain competitive is to ensure a never-ending stream of content, which is how we reached the era of content overload. This is how boredom, as a state of existence, died. Gone are the days when you had to resort to twiddling your thumbs, wiggling your toes, or, worse yet, talking to somebody in person. For the kids that may be reading — oh, who am I kidding? There are no kids reading this. They have better things to do.

I strive towards a career that ends up leaving me somewhere between Howard Beck and Howard Beale.

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