16 Comments
Oct 29, 2023Liked by Alberto Romero

You've nicely captured the paradox of our modern world, where the abundance of tailored entertainment options and the eradication of boredom have paradoxically stifled our creative and introspective capacities. In our quest to fill every moment with stimulation, we've created an environment that caters to our every whim, often at the cost of our ability to be present with our thoughts and simply exist at the moment. This constant of entertainment has transformed us into both the masters and prisoners of our own minds.

In today's bustling and chaotic world, we've lost sight of the value of silence and peace. These pockets of quiet are not only crucial for our mental well-being, but they also serve as the breeding ground for some of our most profound ideas and realizations. Your call to arms, urging us to embrace boredom and seek inner peace, is a timely reminder of the importance of these skills. They are essential tools that we must reacquaint ourselves with if we hope to gracefully and wisely tackle the complexities of the 21st century.

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Oct 26, 2023Liked by Alberto Romero

I couldn't agree with you more.

I recently talked about the idea of "learnability" as a super important skill in our fast-paced world. It's interesting to see how these two ideas are connected. Learnability is all about being open to learning and adapting, even when there's not much happening around you. And the ability to sit quietly and deal with boredom can actually be the starting point for deep thinking and the patience you need to keep on learning.

So, in a way, both of these ideas are about knowing yourself, being tough when things get rough, and being able to adjust in a world that often just wants to keep us entertained all the time. It's pretty clear that these skills are getting more and more valuable as we deal with the challenges of modern life.

Here's the article: https://open.substack.com/pub/thevaluejunction/p/this-one-skill-will-supercharge-your?r=2knor6&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web

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Oct 29, 2023Liked by Alberto Romero

Bravo! Excellent article. I will share it widely.

I just wanted to comment that GenAI & digital media do not have to be used to create a mirror or bubble around a person that no longer challenges them. The underlying technologies are neutral. They could equally well be used to enable people to learn and grow in their attitudes and understanding of the world around them. For example, why don't we give people a chatbot to talk to that embodies contrary values and points of view as compared to their own? Or better, give them multiple chatbots representing multiple perspectives on issues, so the person is forced to think and form their own opinion based on these multiple inputs. We do experiments of this sort in my Lab at the MIT Media Lab, with a goal of using GenAI to support critical thinking and personal growth.

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author

Thank you Pattie!!

I agree these technologies create a lot of valuable possibilities that wouldn't exist without them, but I wouldn't call them neutral. There are design decisions embedded into them, like how Facebook was explicitly designed to capture as much time and attention from users as possible. But it's definitely not black-and-white - I use the internet and Substack to write my articles, social media to promote them, and people probably read them on their smartphones so it'd be dishonest to say those things are plain bad for us. It's simply not true.

Perhaps the better question is whether they are a net good or bad and it's one I believe no one can really answer.

Anyway, given that they are here, using them for good purposes as you do at MIT is the best approach (besides limiting their use, as I argue in the essay).

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Oct 28, 2023Liked by Alberto Romero

Wow, this is great Alberto, well done. The human condition is at the heart of the AI condition, so this seems very relevant to your newsletter.

Other than my happy marriage, my life is almost completely consumed by the north Florida woods, and the Internet, two VERY DIFFERENT environments. I've been constantly going back and forth between the two for over 20 years. Back and forth, back and forth, over and over and over. So I'm constantly comparing these two ways to be human.

Boredom is that experience when our minds are expecting a level of stimulation that they're not receiving. Our minds cry out, "where is the data, where is the data??" And so we typically rush to shove in more data to end the mind's complaining.

If we can resist the urge to shovel in more stimulation, the experience of boredom will fade in time, and what lies beyond it is peace. Not happiness or unhappiness, but a realm outside of either.

A "secret weapon" (known to many) that I've discovered might be described by the formula "nature+time". If we spend enough time in nature our minds gradually adapt to this lower stimulation environment, stop complaining about the lack of data, and it becomes easier and easier to slip in to peace. It doesn't seem to require any special technique, other than showing up, and sticking with it. Time. Lots of time.

And then, after a gloriously beautiful wondrous day of peace, I come home at sunset, and....

Turn on the computer, and.....

I'm back in the stimulation rat race.

Every so often I threaten to install my computer at the bottom of our pool. And every so often I say, maybe tomorrow. Not just yet. Not right now.

Give me another hit on the digital crack pipe.

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Thanks for a very perceptive piece Alberto. I’m sure there is a plethora of human weaknesses tucked inside of the problem you’ve described, yet I suspect one of them is that many people are truly afraid to be alone with their own thoughts, and nothing else. Personally I rather enjoy that prospect, but then I’ve had never had difficulties living inside my own head. My role model is my 89-year-old father who is constantly occupied and engaged. Much of it is in the act of being quite while sitting in a room; Reading or contemplating. He has articulated to me his dismay that people could ever get bored. He wonders how anyone could ever be bored. I have to say that I sort of agree with him. I can’t remember the last time I was bored, except perhaps being a captive audience to some presentation that I could care less about.

The preoccupation with what can entertain us is very much like a drug. It was in fact the theme of the very first Star Trek pilot episode ever made. (1965, The Cage/ The menagerie). To this day it is prescient about what a trap entertaining yourself to death turns out to be.

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My favorite essay you've written so far. This is incredibly true, and I've worried for a long time that the virtual world will someday become so addictively preferable to the real one that we'll willingly immerse ourselves in it and leave this one behind.

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author

Thank you Stephanie! Also... really hope you are wrong!

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I like this. I wrote a piece called "Horror Vacuui" that sort of touches on this; we are speaking the same language, Alberto.

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Loved it! Hadn't heard the term before, and yes, it's pretty much what I'm talking about here.

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I feel like we could sync up on a pretty good piece at some point. If you're interested, keep your eyes open, and I'll do the same! I enjoy your stuff.

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Nietzsche’s prophecy is becoming reality - "Man would rather have the void for his purpose than to be void of purpose"

A great article on the modern day afflictions of instant gratification.

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But if you criticize the staus quo American lifestyle and menatlity you;re the problem.

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Well said. I feel that one thing that can help is by cultivating more mindfulness and introspection. This can help calm as well as slow our minds down, and make us less easily distracted by external factors, particularly our digital devices.

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This can't happen in America. Boredom and image idolizing is how Americans cope with the despair and menaingless of their lives.

I'm most cocenrd for my young kids and all teens.

What a freaking mess Big Tech created : get them addicted to image dopamine hits at the expense of reading and play. Now GOMA wants to take over our lives with automated images and thoughts by mimicking bots.

I dont pity the the adults ,let them chase their tails all ther lives.

Its not a skill - the necessity of boredom and silence - its an learned habit or an acquired disiplne that starts when we;re young. It did for me. But my kids reach for the tablet I reached for literautre and law. We dont need to be entertained 24/7.

I don;t know how to explain this to people that its the root of all our problems.

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