Monday, February 14, 2005

In favour of boredom

Piercing the Spectacle: A Situationist Critique of Computer Games by Brenda Laurel

" Interactivity as we constructed it back in the days of early PCs and console games was a very hopeful thing... But read the texts of our games, examine the roles of our player-characters, and see how we enact the spectacle...

A key premise of the mobile-technology game industry is that the pleasure of interactivity is preferable to boredom. Who would choose simply to sit on a train or wait in a line when you could be distracting your brain and hands with a game? Idleness, slowness, contemplation, being mentally present in a situated context have no place in this wired world. But for those who were alive before this hyperactive culture grew up around us, it was during those interstices of life's activities that we breathed, relaxed, observed, thought things over. Listen up - even the smallest fragments of your idle time have now been colonized with meaningless, addictive junk. Junk that is part of the fabric of the Spectacle...

Just as games can entrain us to enact the Spectacle, they may enable us to enact its converse. Situationists call this sort of reversal a reconstruction. Game designers have it in their power to reconstruct notions of personal awareness, choice, and agency in ways that might seriously disturb the consumerist ethos that has been prepared for us. Now, that could be really fun." (via)

I think that Laurel's nostalgia for the early days of digital interaction is a bit misplaced, but I will stand behind anyone who reminds us of our complicity in producing the society of the spectacle.

When it comes to mobile and pervasive computing, I don't worry about privacy as much as I worry about contributing to the commodification of everyday experience. I don't worry about surveillance as much as I worry that chance encounters and serendipity may disappear. I don't worry about trust as much as I worry about where we will find quiet, slow spaces for reflection.

The paper I'm working on right now involves going beyond Situationist critiques of everyday life - such as dérive and détournement - and critically evaluating strategies offered by Lefebvre, de Certeau, Benjamin and Kracauer.

For example, I've written before about the DIY ethic and its potential for creative agency, but I'm beginning to believe that simply reconfiguring the means of production (or consumption) will be insufficient. In The Mass Ornament, Kracauer writes about boredom as a way of resisting constant distraction or, in other words, defying Debord's spectacle and Lefebvre's colonisation of everyday life by the commodity. But Highmore suggests that Kracauer also shares an affinity with 1970s punk: "to declare yourself bored is not a mark of failure but the necessary precondition for the possibility of generating the authentically new (rather than the old dressed up as the new)."

If our future indeed brings computing into every facet of our daily lives, then I suspect boredom may be our best option. As Kracauer suggests:

"Boredom becomes the the only proper occupation, since it provides a kind of guarantee that one is, so to speak, still in control of one's existence... [O]ne flirts with ideas that even become quite respectable in the process, and one considers various projects that, for no reason, pretend to be serious. Eventually one becomes content to do nothing more than be with oneself, without knowing what one actually should be doing... And in ecstasy you name what you have always lacked: the great passion."

8 Comments:

Anonymous emme singer said...

Thank you for this. I'm especially moved by the description you quoted, "...the colonization of everyday life by the comodity." You might also enjoy reading this article from the SF Chronicle:

Friday, April 2, 2004 (SF Chronicle)
We try our best to avoid it, but boredom has its benefits. Today, it's a lost art form.
Steven Winn, Chronicle Arts and Culture Critic

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2004/04/02/DDGHJ5UGM51.DTL
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my own data, in case you'd like to send a message, can be found at www.myspace.com/daarya

23:38  
Anonymous molly said...

Boredom is what I'm writing about right now regarding Cedric Price's Generator and Gordon Pask's boredom routines. It didn't take much digging to find philosophical references to it.

Soren Kierkegaard in Either/Or has a great rant on boredom (that then underscores the need to choose the ethical life). It's a wonderfully crafted argument and a lot of fun to read:

"We can trace this from the very beginning of the world. The gods were bored so they created man. Adam was bored because he was alone, so Eve was created. From that time boredom entered the world and grew in exact proportion to the growth of population. Adam was bored alone, then Adam and Eve were bored in union, then Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel were bored en famille, then the population increased and the peoples were bored en masse. To divert themselves they conceived the idea of building a tower so high it reached the sky. The very idea is as boring as the tower was high, and a terrible proof of how boredom had gained the upper hand. Then the nations scattered over the earth, just as people now travel abroad, but they continued to be bored. And think of the consequences of this boredom! Man stood high and fell low, first with Eve nadn the nteh Tower of Babel. Yet what was it that statyed the fall of Rome? It was panis and circenses." (from Either/Or, 1992 Penguin edition, 228)


Martin Heidegger writes about the phenomenological nature of boredom. I'm waiting on that book to come in but I found a paper titled "Heidegger’s phenomenology of boredom, and the scientific
investigation of conscious experience" that could be interesting for these purposes.

Also, there are characterizations of Warhol and art in the 60s and its high and low boredom. For my writing, these could be useful too (I'm waiting on the original texts to arrive before I write about them, though)

Finally, two other rather enjoyable resources: A Philosophy of Boredom by Lars Svendsen and Boredom, Self and Culture by Sean Healy.

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