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Handhelds Science

Why It's Bad That Smartphones Have Banished Boredom 351

Hugh Pickens writes "Doug Gross writes that thanks to technology, there's been a recent sea change in how people today kill time. 'Those dog-eared magazines in your doctor's office are going unread. Your fellow customers in line at the deli counter are being ignored. And simply gazing around at one's surroundings? Forget about it.' With their games, music, videos, social media and texting, smartphones 'superstimulate,' a desire humans have to play when things get dull, says anthropologist Christopher Lynn and he believes that modern society may be making that desire even stronger. 'When you're habituated to constant stimulation, when you lack it, you sort of don't know what to do with yourself,' says Lynn. 'When we aren't used to having down time, it results in anxiety. 'Oh my god, I should be doing something.' And we reach for the smartphone. It's our omnipresent relief from that.' Researchers say this all makes sense. Fiddling with our phones, they say, addresses a basic human need to cure boredom by any means necessary. But they also fear that by filling almost every second of down time by peering at our phones we are missing out on the creative and potentially rewarding ways we've dealt with boredom in days past. 'Informational overload from all quarters means that there can often be very little time for personal thought, reflection, or even just 'zoning out,'" researchers write. 'With a mobile (phone) that is constantly switched on and a plethora of entertainments available to distract the naked eye, it is understandable that some people find it difficult to actually get bored in that particular fidgety, introspective kind of way.'"
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Why It's Bad That Smartphones Have Banished Boredom

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  • Compared to what? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AmeerCB ( 1222468 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @08:17AM (#41476103)
    Why is reading a crappy magazine in the doctor's office more productive than using your smartphone? I hate when people spew opinions like this without showing at least ONE piece of data/evidence that using a smartphone is more harmful than the alternative (the other things we do when we're bored).

    And didn't people make the same arguments about television? And then, later, about videogames?
  • I have the solution. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 27, 2012 @08:26AM (#41476165)

    It's called a Portable PC -- AKA Laptop / Notebook. Instead of fucking around with those damn consumtion centric smart phones and tablet devices I use a fully functional portable computer instead. I can make phone calls with it too (even better: Hands Free Video Chat), but typically I just use a cheap dumb "feature" phone for voice. If I can't compile my C programs on it, it's a worthless toy that I don't need. I've tried installing Debian on an Android Tablet, got a stand and portable bluetooth keyboard working... Then I realized how assinine it was to NOT be using a Laptop instead. Yeah it weighs a little bit more than a phone, and is slightly more cumbersome to cary than a purse, but I've got a messenger bag anyway and I'm not a fucking wimp.

    Not that I don't have the constant urge to be doing something -- I do, that sense of urgency is due to my limited 70-100yr lifespan. What I do to "kill time" is actually creative. When the urge strikes I make something, or jot notes on how to realize the idea later. I'm just as habitually a creator as most smartphone "addicts" are media consumers. The difference between me and smart phone users is that I don't whip out my laptop while I'm supposed to be socializing at a restaurant -- Oh, that would be rude... Protip: I think it's just as rude when you smartphone users do that.

  • Example - Kalman (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gr8_phk ( 621180 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @08:30AM (#41476191)
    A classic example is the Kalman Filter. Devised by Kalman while he was waiting in a train station. We may not have that innovation today if he'd had an iPhone.
  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @08:37AM (#41476239) Homepage Journal
    I know a number of people who must have a TV going, no matter how mindless whatever show is that's on. I'm sure they probably have infomercials going at 2 in the morning. I always assumed that if they didn't have constant inane chatter going, they might actually start thinking and realize their own mortality or the meaninglessness of their lives or something. If you get one of these people someplace that doesn't have a TV, they will just natter on. If you want to make them really uncomfortable, just grin and don't say anything when they wind down, and watch them start to fidget! Just about the time they open their mouth to say something else, ask them what they're so afraid of. That freaks them out!
  • Not just phones (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 27, 2012 @08:40AM (#41476265)

    Phones are just the most immediate example. Computers, tablets, TV, video-game consoles... there are thousands of ways I can keep occupied. I never have an opportunity to be bored because I have so many alternatives.

    I'm trying to write a novel. I find it EXCEEDINGLY difficult because when I'm staring at that blank screen trying to coalesce my thoughts into words, I am constantly reminded of all my other options. Maybe just a quick jump to Wiki for some "research" or, maybe I'll take a break on the XBox. Oooh, call of nature? Grab the iPad! And I never leave the house without my e-reader (actually, an iPod touch, but that's its primary purpose) in my pocket.

    Smartphones just add to that chaos.

    I finally concluded the only way I was going to get any work done was to leave it behind. So every day I walk two miles down the road to a nice park... and I write with a pen and pencil. It's worked so far.

  • Re:Example - Kalman (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rasmusbr ( 2186518 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @08:59AM (#41476493)

    And Harold Stephen Black invented the feedback amplifier on a short ferry ride in New York.

    The thing about inventions is that most inventions are made by multiple people around the same time and this happens because the ambient culture, knowledge and technology is available to them around the same time. The Kalman filter is based on a simple enough idea that it would almost certainly have been invented by someone else within years of Kalman's invention, if he hadn't made it then. The feedback amplifier is an even simpler idea.

    There are people who don't play angry birds or produce triple digits numbers of tweets every day and there will always be people like them.

  • by cvtan ( 752695 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @09:14AM (#41476635)
    Unfortunately, the 18-year-old is so preoccupied with responding to text messages on her phone and posting to Facebook on her iPad that she can't read this article, answer a simple question or have a normal conversation. I am not exaggerating. She comes to see me because I have internet service and Wi-Fi. She drives, but I'm not sure how. Every time I try to engage her to discuss something important, the phone beeps and she has to leave to see someone. She has a minimum wage job and the other day she announced she was getting an iPhone. Cell phone companies have done a great job convincing poor people that they need $100/mo cell phones when they can barely afford a place to live or pay for medical expenses. I fear her mind is gone.
  • by jeffmeden ( 135043 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @09:19AM (#41476701) Homepage Journal

    I'll do what I want. I don't care what you used to do in the olden days. If you want to be bored, go for it.

    It's like people whining about magazines closing. Apparently one is closing now, in the UK. Some people are signing a petition. Who are they going to present it to? I bet hardly any of them actually bought it.

    Agreed. I bet there was the same argument about 50 years ago about broadcast TV. "Kids these days, instead of staring out the window (a pastime that served us well for centuries!) all they do is flip on the TV and bang, they aren't bored any more! Windows will go un-stared-out! The humanity!"

    Look, there are always things to do and adults can always make decisions on what they want to do and when. If it's so horrible that people aren't bored, the ones who figure out that boredom is some sort of innate marketable skill will rise to the top and become our new overlords. Until then, it's business as usual.

  • Re:Compared to what? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tehcyder ( 746570 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @09:40AM (#41476917) Journal

    I don't recall a time when talking to other people in line was the thing to do. Most people either daydreamed or tuned out everyone else.

    I talk to people in queues and I am (a) English and (b) anti-social, so I'm sure if I can relax my stiff upper life then you can too.

  • by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @10:02AM (#41477177) Homepage Journal

    It's not so much that as pool size and opportunity. The whole "nice guys finish last" thing has a subversion: those guys hanging out with extremely bored, cute girls might not have the easiest time getting laid, but when there's fuck-all to do they just start snuggling up on anyone they're fairly comfortable with. You don't need to push the right buttons anymore; you just need to not push the wrong ones.

    In other words, bored girls are a heck of a lot looser than occupied girls. Girls generally don't have sex every chance they get; courtship is hard.

  • by RonTheHurler ( 933160 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @10:04AM (#41477217)

    I like to ask my kids- what would have happened to the United States if Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin were hooked on watching The Amazing Race or playing Angry Birds instead of reading history and writing the constitution? That couldn't happen to such smart guys, you say? What if they had been trained from early childhood to just sit and watch whatever was on the TV or to play twitch games instead of doing something constructive?

    When I was a kid I built a lot of models, rewired telephones and I watched Star Trek. One scene that helped define my life was when Spock was apparently staring off into space, and Kirk asked: "Shouldn't you be working on that warp implosion equation?" (or something like that) To which Spock replied with utmost confidence, "I am."

    I was so impressed with that, that I started looking for problems to solve and solving them in my head -- things like calculating the length of a train based on my speed in the car, the train's speed and how long it took our car to overtake it (this required having my dad match the speed of the train and then drop back far enough to accelerate to a steady speed to overtake it. Good thing I had accommodating parents!) I got so good at this kind of thing that I failed a math test (multiplying matrices) in High School. "But I got all the answers right." I confidently told the teacher. "Yes, but you didn't show any work, at all. There are only answers here. You obviously copied someone else's paper." I reminded her that I was the first to tun mine in, by a long shot. She begrudgingly gave me the 100%.

    You can imagine that this skill helped out tremendously in software development.

    All I have to say is, if you ever get bored, ever, then you're not doing it right, even if you don't have anything to play with but your wits. Temple run? I tried it once. Once. Boooooooring!

  • Re:Shower (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @10:33AM (#41477505) Journal

    Thoreau covered this 150 years ago:

    Just so hollow and ineffectual, for the most part, is our ordinary conversation. Surface meets surface. When our life ceases to be inward and private, conversation degenerates into mere gossip. We rarely meet a man who can tell us any news which he has not read in a newspaper, or been told by his neighbor; and, for the most part, the only difference between us and our fellow is that he has seen the newspaper, or been out to tea, and we have not. In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post-office. You may depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive correspondence, has not heard from himself this long while.

    I do not know but it is too much to read one newspaper a week. I have tried it recently, and for so long it seems to me that I have not dwelt in my native region. The sun, the clouds, the snow, the trees say not so much to me. You cannot serve two masters. It requires more than a day's devotion to know and to possess the wealth of a day.

    Life Without Principle, 1863

  • Re:Compared to what? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by X0563511 ( 793323 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @11:35AM (#41478375) Homepage Journal

    Angry Birds isn't empty, like stupid TV or magazines.

    You're exercising several parts of your brain and are interacting.

    Specifically: trajectory analysis, cause and effect, planning.

  • Re:Compared to what? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Austerity Empowers ( 669817 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @11:57AM (#41478613)

    I could learn something exciting about what Paris Hilton is doing today, or what some dumb jock has accomplished in football. yay. It's like high school again. Or I could listen to fringe politics from strangers. I have learned a few things: apparently obama has signed a doctrine for complete control, they want to warehouse children with disabilities and the UN is going to force it, and apparently there's a war on christianity that nobody invited me to.

    Now, having established all of the above as false, or at least no more true now than they have been for my entire life by reading primary sources, I think I'm happy to ignore the output of the unwashed masses and return to angry birds. I wish to prescribe a few hours of angry birds to the people who come up with this shit.

A consultant is a person who borrows your watch, tells you what time it is, pockets the watch, and sends you a bill for it.