We Were Never Being Boring/ We Had Too Much Time to Find for Ourselves


Oliver Burkeman has deep thoughts about boredom and web video:

It is generally agreed that we are more bored today than ever before. Some surveys put the percentage of people who yearn for more novelty in their lives at around 70% and rising. As the scholar Lars Svendsen explains in his book, A Philosophy of Boredom, until at least the 17th century being bored was an elite privilege, bragged about by princes and the nobility. The paradox is that boredom seems to have become democratised in exact proportion to the explosion of reasons not to be bored: books, affordable international travel, and the mass media, for a start. And here is an even stranger paradox: in the age of the internet, when the average person has access to vastly more genuinely fascinating information than at any point in history, what are the sites that consistently achieve cult status, from the birth of the web up to the present day? The boring ones. A ripening cheese. A coffee pot in a Cambridge University computer lab (the first webcam, and now a dusty artefact of online history). A camera trained on a street in a Scottish village where nothing ever happens. And I do mean nothing: so little, in fact, that it would be more interesting to watch paint dry—which, incidentally, you can also do via the web, at watching-paint-dry.com.

This is, uh, interesting, but which internet is Burkeman looking at? On the one I'm using, the stuff that gets the most views features something interesting happening. The biggest driver of traffic to videos is individual surfers e-mailing/IMing/etc links over to their friends with some sort of promise like "omg this is so funny." It's a participatory culture, not a waste of time.

What's the appeal of the nothing-much-happening sites Burkeman is grooving on? Part voyeurism, part inquisition. It's not dull people who are interested in watching complex chemical reactions take place.