Meathooks, Andy Warhol, And The End Of Spaceflight

I sat down with the intention of writing about all the things that are going on in my working life right now, and then immediately realised that half of them are Top Secret and not for publication on the internet. That’s a shame because they’re really rather interesting. What I can say a little bit about is the new book, which I’ve now started working on in earnest, thanks to the labours of a splendid literary agent.

I’m aiming to expand on a few of the more interesting themes that I touched on in This Gaming Life, particularly those related to the social and psychological uses of gaming, and the role of boredom. For a while there I thought I was going to write a book on boredom, which itself is a fascinating topic. The word first turns up in print in 1852, in Dickens’ Bleak House, and then proliferates through English. What’s interesting is that similar words appeared in a number of European languages about that time, and etymological investigation shows that it is, linguistically at least, a fairly new concept. There are words for idleness, isolation, and derivations of disliking or hating something that go right back into Latin, but the specificity of boredom seems new. It’s as if it has evolved to fill a particular need, and as if modern life demanded it. We took boredom to peculiar heights in the 20th century, with some people even making an artform out of it (Warhol) or predicting that it was the whole of our future (Ballard), while the general public used it with increasing frequency to describe their experiences, or their state of mind. Boredom, punctuated by moments of extreme horror, is the Grim Meathook Future. Interestingly, the word “interesting” has also seen a correlating increase in its use.

Anyway, as I looked into boredom I realised that it’s the reactions to the condition that really what’s worth investigating. In This Gaming Life I basically posited that videogames are part of a complex response to boredom, but it’s worth taking that a little further, since videogames represent only one of a number of ways we might deal with boredom, or avoid it altogether. I’ve realised that I’m one of those people who is seldom bored when left to my own devices, and that’s because my behaviour is always to read, research, or play with something. When I’m trapped and unable to do these things is when boredom strikes, and how horrible it can be. The next book, then, explores wider, into realms of imaginative activity other than videogames, and gets to work on the rich tapestry of entertainments and distractions that we’ve created for ourselves. This week I’ve been constructing a piece that examines how a book, a film, and a videogame might all deal with the same topic, and how the technological differences between these formats changes both the experience as well as the subject that is being explored. Beyond that I’ve got some plans to look at how books, the moving image, and the interactive experience are all connected, and how the 20th century coughed them up to give us the culture we have today.

To take some samples from the text, it seems that book two will include such topics as: hippies and computers, the dream machine developed by William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, the weather behind Frankenstein, the all-time total number of novels published, why I am jealous of the protagonist of The Truman Show, why a space programme could be replaced with an inner-space programme, and what World Of Warcraft players and cyborgs have in common. And more!

Anyway, more news on those secret projects soon, and maybe even some extracts from the book-in-progress.


9 Responses to “Meathooks, Andy Warhol, And The End Of Spaceflight”

  • Jakkar Says:

    My thanks for the useless but fascinating trivia upon the words Boredom and Interesting. Strengthens certain perspectives on the fundamental changes we’ve recently experienced as ‘leisure time’ was born. The dawn of machines, every generation finding life easier and thus emptier. Constantly learning new ways to defeat our latest and greatest enemy.

    Entropy by ennui..

  • Matt Jones Says:

    if you haven’t already, you should talk to Molly Steenson about ‘boredom as a strategy’

    http://www.activesocialplastic.com/2007/08/a-brief-history-of-boredom.html

    http://www.activesocialplastic.com/2008/03/my_strategic_boredom_talk_at_i.html

    btw – book sounds awesome.

  • Mike Says:

    “It’s as if it has evolved to fill a particular need, and as if modern life demanded it.”

    Really sums up why I’m looking forward to this book. Good luck!

  • DavidK Says:

    Jim, will this be published by UMP?

    Also, just recently I came across this paper on detecting boredom (http://is.gd/8g33A), which is interesting in the broader context of affective computing. Imagine a game that detects when you’re feeling bored and adjusts accordingly?

  • Rossignol Says:

    @ David: I don’t have a publisher yet, but it’s unlikely to be UMP. That link is actually very useful, thanks.

    @ Matt: Ooh, that’s interesting, thanks.

  • Tom Camfield Says:

    While the specific word may be absent, I imagine boredom has a very, very long history.

    From my own brief research, dull dates from 1590, listless from 1400–50, and then way, way back we have acedia or even apathy, words which seem to cover all the ground boredom does.

    It seems odd to suppose boredom is a modern invention, when we know soldiers have a tendancy to be bored, so too monks, neither modern professions.

    That said, I agree that boredom is an interesting topic, as is the proliferation of the word.

    I teach English to Koreans, and the words they use more than any other are “good”, “interesting”, “boring” and “funny”.

    Notice how ‘bad’ isn’t a typical word. Bad has become ambiguous, Michael Jackson likes bad, so do fans of terrible movies, so boring is now the word for general negativity.

    In many cases though it’s just misused. Often I’m restless rather than bored. Others are depressed. Being unhappy has now become boredom.

    It’s a word that’s slowly becoming about as meaningful as “Ugh”.

  • Rossignol Says:

    Yes, it would be ludicrous to suggest people weren’t apathetic, under-stimulated, idle, or otherwise afflicted by similar feelings to boredom. I think the issue is that modern life has allowed us to express it, or demanded it, which is why we’ve rolled out the specificity of the concept of boredom that we have now.

    Monks are an interesting example, because while we can pretty much prove that they were bored, they were disinclined to express it, because to suggest it would be tedious to serve God would be blasphemous. Likewise in other walks of life, to express these feelings would often be insulting either your superiors or arguing that your lot was not enough – harder to do when class structure was more stratified than it is today.

  • M.P. Says:

    Fascinating topic, looking forward to it!

  • Ben Abraham Says:

    This is quite simply fantastic news! I thought the videogames-as-bordem-killers idea expressed in This Gaming Life was criminally under explored as it seemed to be both the most interesting aspect of the whole discussion and it seemed to touch on every aspect. Can’t wait to pre-order this one.