GBA: Gross Boredom Alleviation, the inverse of GDP

I just found this Twitter account called @PessimistsArc, which is attempting to chronicle all the tech naysayers that got it wrong throughout history. The response to Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, for example, is classic:

It’s also elucidating and tragic, because this kind of skepticism persists to this day, as it did for Facebook and Twitter:

In some ways the problem is a failure of imagination. In others it’s a lack of empathy. In either case, the critic fails to extend the range of possible behaviors beyond what they themselves would be willing to do: call someone when they might not be home when you can just dispatch a telegram? Post a status update when you could just call? Hail an Uber when you could just drive yourself? Et cetera.

But it occurred to me that another blindspot is boredom — many of us think of ourselves as being constantly busy, that we have no time to learn something new or to adopt our behavior to the new thing. We’re fine doing things the way we know how, thankyouverymuch!

But oftentimes new innovations take hold with the youth because they have idle, unfilled hours during the day where they try out new things and embrace them because there’s no entrenched behavior to replace. This is how Snapchat, Vine, and Periscope have entered the fray even as my generation probably thought that Flickr and YouTube might be the last photo and video sharing services we’d ever need (at least by 2012). We’re busy using the things that we already knew; we weren’t bored with slack time to dedicate to these new and odd-shaped platforms.

And so when I was thinking about how to try to stay open to new ideas and the future, it occurred to me that I should be wary of hyper-productivity, which, abstractly we measure through GDP, our Gross Domestic Product. Given our intense focus on maximizing GDP, perhaps those of us concerned with the future should also spend some intentional focus on the opportunities revealed in GBA: gross boredom alleviation!

GBA is the green field of human potential yet to be realized and that is inherently anti-nostalgic. People who are bored either don’t know about the things non-bored people are doing, or have chosen not to pursue those activities, which leaves them, at least in principle, open to new things.

It’s this class of humanity that I think technoskeptics forget or can’t relate to, and that I wish to remind myself of whenever someone pitches me on a new idea for something that I perceive as being already satisfied by the market. Now when I think about GDP, I’ll remind myself how there are always opportunities to be sought in alleviating boredom, in the class of solutions I’ll call “GBA”.

Inventor of the hashtag. Ever-curious product designer and technologist. Previously: Google, Uber, Molly (YC W18).

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