Screens = booze

Published 2012-04-15

Clay Shirky, in an interview about e-books, says:

The reading experience is so much more valuable now than it was ten years ago because it’s rarer. I remember, as a child, being bored. I grew up in a particularly boring place and so I was bored pretty frequently. But when the Internet came along it was like, “That’s it for being bored! Thank God! You’re awake at four in the morning? So are thousands of other people!”

It was only later that I realized the value of being bored was actually pretty high. Being bored is a kind of diagnostic for the gap between what you might be interested in and your current environment. But now it is an act of significant discipline to say, “I’m going to stare out the window. I’m going to schedule some time to stare out the window.” The endless gratification offered up by our devices means that the experience of reading in particular now becomes something we have to choose to do.

So reading this I’m struck with a couple of thoughts.

  1. In the face of some addictions, I’m better opting out completely than just paring back.
  2. I’m glad that Jenny and I have, only partly consciously, organized our lives to partake at least occasionally in the luxury of boredom.
  3. Screens are basically booze. Fine for grownups in reasonable doses, a little questionable for kids.

Television was bad enough but a TV in your pocket that shows you exactly what you want at all times is nigh-on irresistible. Some screens (TV, movie screens) are basically lite beer or a nice Pinot Gris. Some screens (iPads, computers), are a strong whiskey sour. Some screens (smart phones, Wii) are pretty much 200-proof grain alcohol.

I wonder if, in forty or fifty years, we won’t look back at all the ubiquity of screens in our lives with the same kind of collective social horror we feel about ashtrays in hospital waiting rooms ca. 1968.