Boredom, Overload, and the Crisis of Meaning in Late Modern Temporality
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Boredom, in its blankness, has been both a canvas and a subject for modern artists and intellectuals. Whereas those in the early and mid-twentieth century theorized and aesthetically reencountered the conditions of boredom as a wasteland, boredom appears in the work of today as impossibly dense. Boredom in the semiocapitalist information age only remains blank insofar as it is full to the brim with information of inscrutable complexity and choices without real alternatives. Because boredom is fundamentally an experience of time distorted and emptied of meaning, developing this theory of boredom sustains a critical reflection on the temporality of contemporary everyday life. My approach is through vignettes of communication practices that are attempts at meaning-making and modulating time, but are also, in some sense, boring. After reviewing key literature on boredom pre- and post-digital revolution, I first turn to a consideration of texting. While texting is usually derided as trivial and time-wasting, I consider it as habitual in a compulsive, physical sense, but also ritual, in the sense of something done in a patterned way to affirm a bond. The experience of repeated sending and receiving is analyzed as an experience of accelerating or decelerating interpersonal temporalities. In the next chapter, I follow the shape of communication paths through the network and arrive at an exploration of line-making itself. Treating the line as a heuristic device, I consider the line as a cipher of boredom and the networked line, specifically, as an icon of late modernity. Chapter four deals with the use of lines and linearity in conceptual art and writing that explores boredom as a counter-spectacle; that is, as both a symptom of info- and entertainment culture and as a state from which it can be understood. I posit this work as an other of choice and information overload. Having used these vignettes to develop the idea of a uniquely late modern boredom of overload, I conclude that any confrontation with the twenty-first-century politics of information on the grounds of such practices as surveillance or semiocapitalism, is incomplete without an understanding of this boredom as a public affect.