The people are bored because no one is challenging them


When a new piece of technology is released, we must watch out for the "bored response." It tells us so much.

Following yesterday's introduction of the iPhone 5, there has been a collective shrugging of shoulders. The iPhone 5 is boring.

Mat Honan at Wired says it's boring because we expect to be blown away by every Apple announcement, and our expectations were unmet. MG Siegler of TechCrunch says we are tired of seeing the same "magic trick" every year that Apple rolls out a new iPhone.

But here's the thing: all these guys did was define boredom. In 1979, psychologist Georgia Zuckerman described boredom as "an aversion for repetitive experience of any kind, routine work, or dull and boring people and extreme restlessness under conditions when escape from constancy is impossible." Logically, repetition of the same iPhone is going to make us bored, right?

But there's no scientifically proven cause for boredom. Conceivably, we could have the same iPhone thrown at us for decades and never grow bored of it. Volkswagen cranked out essentially the same model of the Beetle automobile for 58 years straight before significantly redesigning it. So while Honan and Siegler could both be right, I do not subscribe to either of their points of view. I happen think iPhone audience boredom is related to a couple of theories of developmental psychology.

In short, it's taken us six years to develop as iPhone users. We have seen the challenges it presents us, and we've seen the limits of autonomy it grants us, and we resist those limitations by being bored.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's seminal work "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience" places boredom on an X-Y plane of demand and skill. When the demands placed upon us are lower than our skill level, we respond by feeling bored. The iPhone, with its already staggeringly shallow learning curve, has placed no challenges upon a society that is already intimately familiar with it.

Good art is challenging, and massively popular art is minimally challenging. Users require something new to learn to be interested, excited and happy.

Of course, it goes further than that. BetaNews contributor Mihaita Bamburic regularly shows the tech-exclusive side of boredom that goes beyond simply exceeding our skill levels with adequate challenge. To prevent boredom, you need the autonomy to solve problems yourself, which in turn drives you to form a personal connection with the hardware and software you use. The less autonomy you have with your tools, the less likely you are to feel personally attached to them.

I'm not saying this is true for all. In fact, most iPhone users are comfortable with their device telling them what to do. Others, however, would prefer to be the ones doing the commanding. A bigger screen and overall faster internal specs do not afford users any greater control over their own experience than the previous generation. You are guaranteed to have the same *general* limitations you had in the last five iPhones, and can therefore expect no deeper of a relationship.

The iPhone 5 is neither a challenge to the status quo, nor a tool of empowerment, and it didn't even have to reach consumer hands for users to see that.

Photo: Martin Novak/Shutterstock

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