#124: Boredom and economic growth, a theory about genius and a question about experiences

One thought from me: How boredom drives economic growth

Distraction from boredom is the main driver of economic growth.

If enough of us become more accepting of our tedious present moments, we might collapse the economy.

Global economies rely on our inability to be okay with ourselves.

It doesn’t have to be this way. It wasn’t always this way.

It has been made this way by developments in four types of technology:

  • entertainment technology (including Netflix, Spotify and YouTube, which have made on-demand entertainment a habit that billions of people will never be able to break)
  • communications technology (including Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, which bring the best elements of the lives of others into our consciousness on a daily — or hourly — basis, and stealthily compel us to feel dissatisfied with our own existence, which we mistakenly think of as mundane)
  • commerce technology (including Amazon and eBay, which make it simple for us to salve our desire to buy things as a treatment for our boredom with our mundane existence)
  • financial technology (including all the world’s biggest banks, which generate profits out of our indebtedness on month-to-month high-interest credit cards)

It’s true that human nature has been susceptible to this for thousands of years.

The Roman political leaders followed policies that were labelled “bread and circuses” by the poet Juvenal:

to generate public approval, not by excellence in public service or public policy, but by diversion, distraction or by satisfying the most immediate or base requirements of a populace — by offering a palliative: for example food (bread) or entertainment (circuses).

In general, people will be susceptible to costly distraction. As two people described when I wrote a little about this on Twitter, it’s akin to a “mass hypnosis” or “mass hallucination”.

So in general, this susceptibility has been around for thousands of years.

But at an individual level, we don’t have to fall victim to it. At an individual level, we can notice when we’re being gently coaxed to purchase a balm against boredom, and once we notice it, we have a much greater chance at resisting it.

A more sustainable balm, I think, is mindful creativity, which I wrote about in last week’s bulletin.

One thought from someone else: A theory of genius

I suspect if you had the sixteen year old Shakespeare or Einstein in school with you, they’d seem impressive, but not totally unlike your other friends.

Which is an uncomfortable thought. If they were just like us, then they had to work very hard to do what they did. And that’s one reason we like to believe in genius. It gives us an excuse for being lazy.

If these guys were able to do what they did only because of some magic Shakespeareness or Einsteinness, then it’s not our fault if we can’t do something as good. I’m not saying there’s no such thing as genius. But if you’re trying to choose between two theories and one gives you an excuse for being lazy, the other one is probably right.

— Paul Graham, writer, entrepreneur and investor

From “What You’ll Wish You’d Known”, an essay of advice for school students who may be about to embark on a college or work career

Paul Graham has written several long essays on life and business, and all of them are worth reading. The piece referenced here was initially to be delivered as a speech to a high school class many years ago, but the speech was cancelled, and he wrote it up as an essay instead.

One question for you

What is one big experience you’d like to have in your life which, for whatever reason, you’ve been putting off for a long time?