Embracing boredom

In Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other Sherry Turkle tells a story about having dinner in Paris with her daughter, Rebecca. While they are eating, Rebecca gets a call from a friend in Boston, asking if sh’s available for lunch. Rebecca simply answers that it won’t be possible, but that Friday could work. She doesn’t even tell her friend that sh’s currently in Paris. Sherry has mixed feelings about this:

I was wistful, worried that Rebecca was missing an experience I cherished in my youth: an undiluted Paris. My Paris came with the thrill of disconnection from everything I knew. My daughter’s Paris did not include this displacement.

I told me wife this story later that evening, and we started talking about our own tumultuous 30-day backpacking trip through Europe at a time when our relationship was”¦ well, let’s just say it was on less stable ground than it is now (remind me to tell you how we broke up on top of the Eiffel tower and got back together in Venice).

We talked about the truth in Sherry’s words – how being so utterly disconnected from the rest of the world played a big role in our ability to immerse ourselves in the newness and strangeness of the culture around us. We were only able to check email about once every 3-4 days. I can’t even imagine how I’d be able to go that long without email now, but back then it wasn’t a big deal. Less email = more time for walking through the streets of a new city.

Fast forward to today, and I am incredibly fortunate to travel for business reasonably often, but I must admit that it doesn’t fill me with the same excitement as that Europe backbacking trip did. And I think that’s partly because the constant connection means that I’m not really immersed in another culture, I’m just working from a different office.

Shelly comes to the following conclusion after her trip to Paris with her daughter:

Adolescents have always balanced connection and disconnection; we need to acknowledge the familiarity of our needs and the novelty of our circumstances. The Internet is more than old wine in new bottles; now we can always be elsewhere.

And that is perhaps the real issue here. If the Internet lets us be elsewhere any time we want, what point is there in physically moving ourselves across the world any more? Especially if we use the Internet to bring ourselves back to where we came from the minute we get there?

Alain de Botton recently tweeted:

The problem with the net: it prevents us from boredom and all its many advantages.

One of those advantages is the ability to sit in a restaurant in Paris and truly take it in without wondering what everyone else is up to. Even just sitting in your own back yard without wondering what everyone else is up to would probably already be a huge step in the right direction. Oh, the thinks you could think.

Her’s to being bored.