Why is Everyone Bored in this Age of Novelty?

Why is Everyone Bored in this Age of Novelty?

Technology is progressing at a rapid pace. It feels like forever ago when Facebook was first created, marking a new age of interactive social media, and since then new apps and platforms are being created left, right and center- with each new one’s hold of popularity getting shorter and shorter.

The novelty of these new platforms wears off pretty rapidly- because although they may be new, there’s nothing unique about the way we navigate them. Some apps, such as Instagram or the (newly, hint hint) revamped X, attempt to keep the novelty alive by adding what they deem to be “improvements” to their platforms- but hey, even if the update is worse, at least it’s new! The newness of already familiar things is what people seek. We don’t want to be unsure of how to do things, and we loathe the possibility of risks. However, without risks, everything stays the same, and predictability can be boring. We want comfort and stability yet we aim to avoid any boredom in our lives- and those ideas simply have to coexist.

Humans are hardwired to seek out novel experiences. Try taking a different route home from work next time and see how different your afternoon becomes. Novelty can be easily achieved by these “simple” experiences, but due to technology and global connective media, we have to work at truly appreciating simple novel experiences more. In the 1950’s, the novel experience was the purchase of a television set. Few sets had trickled through the market since the first television was installed in a home in 1928, but by the mid 50’s and into the 60’s it was commonplace to discuss the events of I Love Lucy from the night before with your neighbours. And the novelty of this technology and its ability to unite communities didn’t wear off. Still to date, the Apollo 11 moon landing is the most watched broadcast of all time- everyone was tuned in, everyone was excited, and everyone talked about it for years to come. It was new. It was original. Nobody had ever seen anything like it.

I just opened TikTok and watched a video on the newly released Apple Vision Pros, a revolutionary new technology that will merge the virtual with the physical, allowing users to experience digital content layered over their real world environment. This technology is a feat in publicly available digital media, and may be the start of the transition into a digitized future unlike anything we have experienced before. It’s a novel piece of technology. And after watching that video, I scrolled onward, and eventually exited the app an hour later with barely a recollection of that or any other video I watched during that time. I had an hour to kill and instinctively reached for my cell phone, cruising on autopilot in an attempt to avoid doing nothing and to find some stimulation. But, the video was impressive, and the technology featured was unique, new and original. Why wasn’t it novel to me? Why did I dismiss it with such triviality? And why do I feel bored, I thought my phone was supposed to fix that?

In 1987, theorist Neil Postman claimed: “There is no murder so brutal, no earthquake so devastating, no political blunder so costly- for that matter, no ball score so tantalizing or no weather report so threatening- that it cannot be erased from our minds by a newscaster saying ‘now this!’.” He critiques how the increasing competition for our attention has rewired how we intake information, and in his book ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death,’ he claims that the new medium, television, is molding a mindless civilization due to non-stop entertainment- a rendition of Huxley’s classic Brave New World. There is no off-button for the generation of content, and the expectation of new content is growing quicker as each generation is introduced to media at younger and younger ages. His pessimism should undoubtedly be critiqued as well, as society has been able to adapt to the rapidly changing digital media environment and many opportunities and benefits have come from these advancement, but these points cannot be ignored as we can still measure the prevalence of reduced attention in contemporary times.

The accessibility that digital media nowadays, and traditional mass media technologies like the television and later the internet, provide, is not just a threat to a stable mental health or the maintenance of an attention span, threats that many people have been made aware of, but it is a threat to the mere existence of a state of boredom. Novelties provide excitement- a change (that’s not too drastic) from daily life by something that has not been experienced or seen before. Technological novelties used to be few and far between; even in the 1980s, the booming age of wireless internet, mobile phones and transportable music systems like the Walkman, these inventions seemed unfamiliar and constantly exciting. This technology was used as a cure for boredom in mediated doses, since restrictions such as location accessibility and the incompatibility of these technologies in other aspects of everyday life did not allow for the constant access to these distracting mediums.

What’s so bad with boredom, anyway? German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1995) identified 2 types of boredom; superficial boredom and profound boredom. The first, superficial boredom, is described as a restlessness that comes from a lack of stimulation in a situation, and the desire for distraction that manifests from that. It is a situation that causes us to be stuck in limbo, for example waiting for the bus or sitting at a doctor’s office anticipating your name being called. We are in a situation that restricts us from what we know we should be or want to be doing, and in this situation we’re left unsatisfied by our immediate actions without the presence of any alternative options, besides waiting. Profound boredom, however, is an indifference to life itself, in which time is abolished and the past, present and future meld into one. This state causes deep introspection and may also leave us in limbo, but due to the absence of worldly concerns and meaningful stimulation in ones’ life. Whereas superficial boredom restrains mental stimuli and creativity due to time restraints, profound boredom can allow for the development of new hobbies and even cause people to have drastic life changes as they grow their understanding of themselves. Profound boredom was something observed during the COVID-19 pandemic, wherein quarantine dawned the exploration of new hobbies and new careers for many people with copious amounts of downtime (spawning the superficial boredom) that were not felt satisfied with their daily lives. The possibility however nowadays, is that due to the presence of constantly accessible digital media, people may not be allowed to reach those beneficial levels of profound boredom due to the instant dispelling of anticipated boredom.

The relationship between boredom and novelty-seeking behaviour has been explored a myriad of times in past scientific literature, this behaviour relating to the tendency to seek out new and unfamiliar experiences as a form of excitement. This tendency is instinctually necessary for human survival, as the more we learn about the world around us, the better equipped we are to handle threatening, challenging or dangerous situations in the future. The brain seeks newness to get a dopamine fix, while in the meantime collecting new experiences and knowledge that could benefit us in later situations. In this day and age, where flashy new images can be found in the palm of your hand with the tap of a black screen, novel experiences can be accessed and used to fill up the mundane times between waiting for the bus or anticipating the doctor to call out your name. Is there a point where the quick dopamine hits your brain receives from these stimuli become… predictable? Is there a point when the novelty wears off? When opening your phone and tapping on the TikTok icon doesn’t grant an escape, just a loss of time? Don’t worry, technology advances so rapidly that there will be a new distracting icon on your home screen by next week, as long as you can stand being bored until then.


Postman, N. (1987). Amusing ourselves to death: Public discourse in the age of show business. London: Methuen.

Heidegger, M. (1995). The fundamental concepts of metaphysics: World, finitude, solitude. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Murphy, S., Hill, T., McDonagh, P., & Flaherty, A. (2023). Mundane emotions: Losing yourself in boredom, time and technology. Marketing Theory, 23(2), 275-293. https://doi.org/10.1177/14705931221138617

Hodkinson, P. (2017) Media technologies. In Media, culture and society: An introduction. (2nd ed., pp. 17-35). Sage Publishing.

Bassil, M. (2023, July 10) 15 TV shows that were popular in the ’50s. Movieweb. https://movieweb.com/popular-tv-series-1950s/#i-love-lucy-1951-1957

Isabel Batiste Frillman is a first-year bachelor’s student of Communication Science at the University of Amsterdam. Although a pessimist in her study when it comes to understanding the implications of digitalization on society and individual’s quality of life, Isabel embraces innovation and understands the opportunities that have risen from the developments of technology and media industries. She is a passionate writer, enjoys reading, loves nature and will always say yes to going in a hike. She volunteers for the UvA Green Office as part of the Communications Team because she believes in sustainability and wants to do her part to make the world a better place

 Leo Johnson is a second-year International Relations student at the University of California Davis. He enjoys the great wonders of the outdoors, attempting to write music, and reading classic books that he pretends to understand.

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