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Business News/ Opinion / Columns/  There’s a future for boredom in the age of immersive fun
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There’s a future for boredom in the age of immersive fun

Augmented reality advances are creating new ways of forgetting what is real but also of getting bored

There’s a future for boredom in the age of immersive funPremium
There’s a future for boredom in the age of immersive fun

Apple’s announcement of Vision Pro, a headset that will make videos resemble real life, gives me hope as I look forward to the future of wasting time. I do not call it ‘leisure’ or ‘relaxing after a hard day’s work’ or ‘me-time’ or any such comforting nonsense. Entertainment is not entirely a waste of time but mostly it is, and it is for that reason that I find it entertaining.

I am aghast at creators who promise to waste my time but do that so poorly that I have to go back to meaningful tasks. I am particularly disappointed with the predominant miners of our time like Facebook and Marvel and streaming channels. So I look forward to the future of augmented reality and virtual reality. Maybe life is going to be even more fun than it already is when entertainment becomes, as the tech industry says, “immersive", as though other forms of entertainment are not immersive. A good book has to be, but my brief experience of virtual reality has educated me that there are levels of “immersive" and we will be blown.

The history of entertainment is a history of what could immerse people in an era. This might be the broad non-psychedelic chronology of immersive entertainment: Reality, religion, Shakespeare, novels, cinema, the internet, and now “augmented reality" and a certain romantic notion of actual reality.

As you can see, some old ways of immersion have endured. But I won’t overstate their power. Usually the old ways of immersive reality are no match for the new ways.

When a new technology emerges, commentators, especially in India, tend to talk about its social benefits, as though they are all that matter. For instance, when the internet and cell phones were arriving in India, there was much talk about how “the farmer" will now be able to find the “price of his crop", as though that is the only thing a farmer seeks in his life. The people who speak on behalf of the poor appear to believe that fun is not a basic essential. In reality, the internet and phones took off among the masses because they offered entertainment. The first reactions to an impending Apple product line usually do not have social-messaging because they are meant for the affluent. Even so, the review of Vision Pro contained frequent mentions of how the device can transform education and even furniture assembly, perhaps saving the marriages, temporarily, of couples who have shopped at Ikea. There is very little mention of an arena of entertainment that’ll have a profound impact on the sales of the product—immersive, hyperrealistic pornography.

What is the future of boredom in the age of immersive entertainment? People speak of boredom as though it is a disease that they keep fighting. Yet, it is boredom that formed our personalities, and can continue to do so if we allow it to exist. I do not mean to consecrate boredom. Most of sorrow is boredom. But still, it is a living force in the core of our lives. It is there if we can see into the heart of our childhood. The central emotion of my childhood at least is boredom, which was only marginally better than trauma. I had so much time and nothing much to do. When I had something to do, it was even more boring than doing nothing, like studying for an exam. To save myself from boredom, I wrote a lot, which too was boring and tedious, but it was a different sort of boredom from idleness.

With every generation, the scope for boredom has reduced. It is much harder for children today to be bored in conventional ways. Their parents ensure they have something to do. In summer vacation, children are set to do extracurriculars, like the inmates of Tihar jail do under the supervision of a benevolent warden. They have many solutions to boredom that are entertaining. But this has raised their bar for stimulation; as a result, they are bored even as they immerse in entertainment. This is true for adults too. There are many ways of wasting time, but nothing really endures, and boredom finds a way to infect.

Everyone today is in the paradoxical trance of distraction. People set out to do some work, but then they check their mails, their social media feed, some reels maybe, then there is another mail. We keep scrolling. If you look at the world that is immersed in their phones, you may think they are this way because they are entertained by “content". I don’t think so. I feel distraction is a form of boredom. That is the evolution of boredom—from being mindful of the present, which is far more dreary than monks claim, to having nothing to do, we have come to get bored of entertainment itself. Augmented reality is going to create new ways of forgetting reality but also new ways of getting bored.

Technology-ordained entertainment is strangely democratic. Even if a product is made for the affluent, it soon percolates down in some form to almost everyone. It is as though some American billionaires have unknowingly created a pact to keep the masses hooked to entertainment so that they don’t revolt. The same will happen to augmented reality. As Meta’s virtual-reality headset, and Apple’s Vision Pro become mainstream, they would inspire cheaper imitations, and soon even India’s poor would be hooked to the astonishing parallel world, maybe in a network of augmented-reality booths. Some kind soul will say that now the “farmer" can consult “a virtual doctor".

Despite its lure, there is a surprising quality to augmented reality. It is exhausting. After about an hour, one wants to get back to the dullness of the primary illusion of human biology, which we call “reality".

Manu Joseph is a journalist, novelist, and the creator of the Netflix series, ‘Decoupled’.

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Updated: 11 Jun 2023, 11:25 PM IST
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