Michael Jennings quotes Douglas Adams speculating that curing all disease will leave us bored.
…total cures had a lot of unpleasant side effects. Boredom, listlessness…
A typical response to any suggestion of labour saving devices or increased automation or robots in factories is that this will lead to people being bored and not having enough to do.
Related, I think, to this, is the worry that if longevity technology works then the planet will be overpopulated and anyway who would want to live forever? Surely one would get bored. This is exactly what happened in the comments to a Gizmodo article about research into making stem cells from normal blood cells.
Live forever and do what? Continue to work six days a week to pay for your life-extension medical plan? That doesn’t seem worth it.
I propose that people will not get bored so easily. The removal of one set of problems simply makes the next set of problems more urgent. Humans are infinitely imaginative at finding problems to solve. There will always be challenges. I present as evidence Paul Miller who has taken a year off the Internet. He uses computers but does not send emails or read Twitter or surf the web. He writes articles for the Verge by giving them to his editor on a USB stick. He does not read the comments to his articles. People think he is mad and wonder how he copes. He makes interesting observations.
Without the internet, everything seemed new to me. Every untweeted observation of daily life was more sacred. Every conversation was face to face or a phone call, and filled with a hundred fresh nuances. The air smelled better. My sentences seemed less convoluted. I lost a bit of weight.
But now that not having internet is no longer new, just normal, the zen calm is gone. I don’t wake with the sunrise while chirping birds pull back the covers. I still have a job. I feel pressure and stress and frustration. I get lonely and bored. My articles aren’t always submitted on time. Sometimes my sentences aren’t good.
I’m just stock Paul Miller. No more Not-Using-The-Internet custom skin; I’m just myself. And it’s not all sunshine and epiphanies.
But I’m still Paul.
“I just wasn’t made for these times,” sing The Beach Boys. “Sometimes I feel very sad,” goes the refrain, and sometimes I do, indeed, feel very sad. But after switching myself to a pre-internet era, I can assure you “these times” don’t have much to do with it. It’s just, you know, life.
Not having the Internet has not changed Paul. He does the same things; some are easier and some are harder. This means that in the reverse, gaining the Internet will not change Paul either. His challenges will be different in some ways and the same in others. I think the same would be true of any other technology. There may be net changes in productivity but increased productivity does not lead to boredom.
I suspect the mistake made by those who fear solving too many problems is an assumption that nothing else will change either. If we are all perfectly healthy we will attempt the same feats that we attempt now but find them too easy. Of course this is ludicrous; we will attempt more challenging feats. If we can build everything we need today with robots at the push of a button we will get bored. Of course not, we will build more stuff.
If we can live for 10,000 years we will overpopulate the planet and run out of things to do. Of course not. We will probably only have children every few hundred years (plenty of time to develop hydroponics and colonise space) and in the meantime we can lead as many different lives as we like.