The Technium

The Boredom Device

When it comes to the digital world we might need a device that reverses the usual charge of wants. Instead of a small thing in your pocket that gives you exactly what you want to see at any minute, this device gives you stuff you don’t want to see.

This is a personal device that uses AI to learn what you like to spend time on, and then deliberately gives you the opposite. Sort of like TikTok, but in reverse. It only shows you articles, social media posts, and advertisements that it knows you will never click on. And if you don’t click, it will keep sending you more and more stuff like that. Entire streams on stuff you won’t click on.

The idea is that you will pick up your phone to scan what’s going on in the world, and not see anything worth reading. Bored, you put your phone away. You have satisfied the itch of “what’s going on in the world” and been assured “not much, get back to what you were doing.” This works not by giving you things that are your opposite, as in things that you disagree with. Disagreement is actually engaging. Opposition is energizing. Hate commands your attention. The key is to deliver to your screen stuff that you are indifferent to. Dreadfully sleepy.  For me the counter to right wing madness is not progressive sanity but beauty tips. For someone else it would be theories about Rome, and the optimal method to calculate your taxes. 

This device / phone / OS / browser / social media / API would be marketed to people who want to decouple themselves from their phone addictions, knowing that cold turkey will never work because of FOMO. You basically assuage the FOMO and replace it with digital ennui. It’s nicotine chewing gum for digital addiction. 

A lot of people would pay a subscription for this, which is the only monetary model that would work.

(This idea was first suggested to me by the brilliant science fiction author Hugh Howey.)


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