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In Praise of Boredom

beethoven I watched October Sky recently, while it was a fairly standard Hollywood movie, one thing struck me: nowadays those kids would be too busy with gadgets and distractions to build rockets and excel like that.

I've been thinking about the greater artists, writers, and feats of history lately, and I keep wondering what would have happened if they had the electronics and connectivity that we do? Would Mozart be the same if he had twitter and XBox 360? More generally, can the brain reach such heights if it's always nagged by and buzzing from modern convenience and gizmos? Without these things, would we turn our boredom into great art and science?

Two things are at play here: the fact that we have so many different things to distract us, and the fact that we're constantly distracted. Between the loss of focus, and never giving the brain a rest, I think we might be undermining our ability to achieve something spectacular. I wonder how many extraordinary things and people are born out of boredom? I wonder if being bored is good for the brain, the way that sleep is good for it and the body?

Maybe what we have these days will wind up making us better, and our brains are being rewired in some beneficial way, but the jury's out for me. I have a feeling a great compression is going on, raising the lows and squashing the highs. Maybe we won't have any more Beethovens, but everybody will be mildly happy and cared for. And then it's just a hop skip and a jump to the warm-goo-bath that The Matrix foretells.