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Are you bored of the endless scroll of your social media feed? Do you swipe left before considering the human being whose face you just summarily rejected? Do you skim articles on your screen in search of intellectual stimulation that never arrives? If so, this book is the philosophical lifeline you have been waiting for. Offering a timely meditation on the profound effects Are you bored of the endless scroll of your social media feed? Do you swipe left before considering the human being whose face you just summarily rejected? Do you skim articles on your screen in search of intellectual stimulation that never arrives? If so, this book is the philosophical lifeline you have been waiting for. Offering a timely meditation on the profound effects of constant immersion in technology, also known as the Interface, Wish I Were Here draws on philosophical analysis of boredom and happiness to examine the pressing issues of screen addiction and the lure of online outrage. Without moralizing, Mark Kingwell takes seriously the possibility that current conditions of life and connection are creating hollowed-out human selves, divorced from their own external world. While scrolling, swiping, and clicking suggest purposeful action, such as choosing and connecting with others, Kingwell argues that repeated flicks of the finger provide merely the shadow of meaning, by reducing us to scattered data fragments, Twitter feeds, Instagram posts, shopping preferences, and text trends captured by algorithms. Written in accessible language that references both classical philosophers and contemporary critics, Wish I Were Here turns to philosophy for a cure to the widespread unease that something is amiss in modern waking life.


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Are you bored of the endless scroll of your social media feed? Do you swipe left before considering the human being whose face you just summarily rejected? Do you skim articles on your screen in search of intellectual stimulation that never arrives? If so, this book is the philosophical lifeline you have been waiting for. Offering a timely meditation on the profound effects Are you bored of the endless scroll of your social media feed? Do you swipe left before considering the human being whose face you just summarily rejected? Do you skim articles on your screen in search of intellectual stimulation that never arrives? If so, this book is the philosophical lifeline you have been waiting for. Offering a timely meditation on the profound effects of constant immersion in technology, also known as the Interface, Wish I Were Here draws on philosophical analysis of boredom and happiness to examine the pressing issues of screen addiction and the lure of online outrage. Without moralizing, Mark Kingwell takes seriously the possibility that current conditions of life and connection are creating hollowed-out human selves, divorced from their own external world. While scrolling, swiping, and clicking suggest purposeful action, such as choosing and connecting with others, Kingwell argues that repeated flicks of the finger provide merely the shadow of meaning, by reducing us to scattered data fragments, Twitter feeds, Instagram posts, shopping preferences, and text trends captured by algorithms. Written in accessible language that references both classical philosophers and contemporary critics, Wish I Were Here turns to philosophy for a cure to the widespread unease that something is amiss in modern waking life.

30 review for Wish I Were Here: Boredom and the Interface

  1. 5 out of 5

    David Baer

    I don't regret by any means the reading of this book, but I do retract an assessment I made mid-way through, something to the effect that Kingwell provides a more policy-relevant set of observations about the Current (socioeconomic) Arrangement, than does Yuval Noah Harari in 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. Spoiler alert for those looking for specific policy proposals: on page 146, just 3 pages from the end of this short book, Kingwell writes "Are there collective solutions here? I honestly cann I don't regret by any means the reading of this book, but I do retract an assessment I made mid-way through, something to the effect that Kingwell provides a more policy-relevant set of observations about the Current (socioeconomic) Arrangement, than does Yuval Noah Harari in 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. Spoiler alert for those looking for specific policy proposals: on page 146, just 3 pages from the end of this short book, Kingwell writes "Are there collective solutions here? I honestly cannot say." As another reviewer of the above-mentioned Harari book memorably said (in total), "Well, Fuck." But my disappointment with the lack of a strong summation is well-tempered by the stunning insights that I gained along the way. I became aware of Kingwell decades ago, early in his career, but I lost track of his work during my non-reading years. I am reminded now that reading Kingwell is akin to drinking from a fire-hose, or perhaps, chugging some intoxicating liquor. Kingwell is a philosopher; as such, he puts current events and current socio-techno context in a theoretical framework without troubling over-much about delineating the trends that got us here - as a historian might. Kingwell's genius is to be a popularizer of philosophy: distilling the thought of others, and providing his own thought, in an accessible manner that is (mostly) stripped of jargon and abstruse theoretical framing. Having lauded MK for accessibility, I must also add that I had to look up several words in the course of reading. The prospective reader ought to know the following: etiology, semiotics, immiserating, cathaxis, elision, hermeneutic, reified, ensorcellment (come on, that is basically a French word), oneiric. Also, by page 32 he has already referenced Heidegger, Schopenhauer, Adorno, Wittgenstein, Plato, Kierkegaard, Hegel, Nietzsche, and others. So it's like a cool lake: it's fine, once you get immersed. Having established several existing philosophical views of boredom, MK argues for the existence of a new form: "Neoliberal boredom". "Boredom is now a natural extension of the unease and restlessness generated in the economic sphere, everywhere exacerbated by upgrade imperatives, frenzied claims concerning speed and satisfaction, and perhaps worst, a constant generation of happiness-destroying envy for a form of existence that always seems to be elsewhere, enjoyed by someone else, or just past the horizon of the present in a future that never arrives." (You see? That is the sort of sentence that just smacks me in the face like a wet salmon and leaves me agog.) MK coins the (capitalized) term "The Interface" to describe "the narrow way in which the user experiences himself or herself through the specific mechanism of restless choosing." (Think: swipe-left, scrolling through lists, etc: the things you do on your phone). "The promises of the Interface [ie, content] are a sly seduction... Neoliberal boredom means not just the peculiar boredom of the Interface consumed in place of the content, but the distinct experience of subjective emplacement associated with that consumption - a species of imprisonment and lurking addiction in what turns out to be, indeed, rabid self-consumption." MK connects these dots of The Interface and "neoliberal boredom" with current politics: "The Interface is implicated in the breakdown of truth as a governing norm because it casts everything in a gray zone of zero accountability. By the time a falsehood has been noted, we are already three turns along in the cycle. And the cycle never stops." Quite interestingly, MK marks the progress of the "Western philosophical project". In what he calls the "high modern" phase, thinkers perceived a "duty of exposure": everyday society works to maintain illusions that serve the interests of the Current Arrangement. The duty of exposure reveals this shell game of falsity by leveraging penetrating insight... this is Philosophy in its basic critical mode. BUT this "enlightened" view of the world as self-deceived is AS MUCH committed to the notion of baseline reality as the so-called naive view. The post-modernist view perceives the extent of the difficulty: "we must take seriously that there are no facts of the matter, that culture is not a shell game working to prop up the articulable bourgeois interests, but instead a free play of empty signifiers and random spectacles that - yes - tend to reinforce current interests, but not by hiding a discoverable truth". "The longstanding Western philosophical project has reached its endgame, and the results are in: not only can anyone say anything, but the anyone saying anything can be the highest elected official of the most powerful country in the world. Welcome to the postmodern condition!" Bam. After this, policy proposals are non-specific, but fairly radical nonetheless. MK returns to the idea of "scaffolding" around free speech. Much the same as we accept limits on our freedom in the form of speed limits and traffic lights, we might also accept mutually-agreed limits on Interface-mediated speech. After all, the Internet is not really a Public Good: it is a highly structured commercial space, owned by private interests, whose main goal is to commodify us through our attention. Eyeballs and clicks. But in the end MK disavows any specific collective solutions, as noted at the outset here. Ever the philosopher, one of his concluding thoughts is "Boredom is the sign that we are ever in the presence of death; but it is also, in the same moment, an urgent endorsement of life." So there. I hope you read it and enjoy it as I did.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Karen Ocana

    "Boredom is integral to the process of taking one's time," an apt statement for dealing with Kingwell's book on Boredom and the Interface. Admittedly, I have probably not give all the time I could to this quick review. I still have my doubts about boredom. Wish I Were Here left me feeling as if a) it's a reaction to Trumpism, or rather the social and political conditions that have brought us the crisis that gave rise to Trump; b) it's an 'apology' of sorts: a rebuttal to Kingwell's neoNazi free "Boredom is integral to the process of taking one's time," an apt statement for dealing with Kingwell's book on Boredom and the Interface. Admittedly, I have probably not give all the time I could to this quick review. I still have my doubts about boredom. Wish I Were Here left me feeling as if a) it's a reaction to Trumpism, or rather the social and political conditions that have brought us the crisis that gave rise to Trump; b) it's an 'apology' of sorts: a rebuttal to Kingwell's neoNazi free speech loving detractors and critics; c) it makes use of Martin Heidegger's theories about boredom, Dasein, Time and his Zeitgeist without explicitly situating this philosopher's musings as arising at the same time as Nazism took hold in Germany. Mark Kingwell approaches the problem of boredom with probing intelligence, but certainly has, like everyone else blind spots. Or is he just a diehard sceptic? No. Actually, perhaps his evasion of the Heidegger question is his way of acknowledging Heidegger's failure and deciding that, despite that, philosophy has to find a way to go on. Kingwell does give various quite lucid and astute readings of boredom and its relationship to what Kingwell calls the Interface: phenomenological, ethical, aesthetic, political. I almost wish that he had begun the book in reverse, i.e. started with the Interface, and a nuanced socio-philosophical genealogy of the concept of "the Interface", meaning our electronic and digital environments. How did we get here? (Or is that more of a historian's question?) How have we come to design our environments and how is it that we now interact with artificial intelligence as we do? In any case, we are stuck with boredom, and choice. Social Media and Mark Zuckerberg & Co. Misogyny and Facebook, the original male gaze-o-centric phallocentric dating app. Back in 2019, when I first picked up the book, reading Kingwell's Preface was certainly seductive, as was his use of the literary device of boring postcards as a storytelling opening, and as an illustration of "old-fashioned" boredom. The postcards set the tone and illustrated the potentialities of a book that claimed to seek to cultivate the appreciation of boredom. Beginning with Heidegger, then returning to Schopenhauer, glossing Nietzsche and dwelling on Adorno, the first and second chapters (Condition and Context), give a quick history, peppered with quick summaries of philosophical dealings with boredom, ennui, acedia and so on. In Chapter 3, the Crisis, Kingwell turns to the Interface, where we internet and social media users, find ourselves, on a daily basis, going crazy in a world of Fast, Dirty and Out of Control media consumption. So, it is no surprise, that Kingwell's closing chapter (Section 4: Ways of Going On), returns to this book's conservative, somewhat reactionary and certainly nostalgic yearning for the good old boredom of old-fashioned times, of 1940s-1950s conservative America, when there was no Google, no Google maps, but good old-fashioned fold-out maps you could walk your fingers across. I get it. I love to walk my fingers across maps. I also yearn for the territory, those territories one can actually inhabit. The three-dimensional, multi-dimensional, soul-filled, polyphonic, the sublime, or just the real. Maybe I expected too much from this book. It is a bit of an aha! moment. Where I realize what philosophy looks and reads like in the 2020's. Apart from my recent reading of Agamben, I haven't looked at philosophy since 2001. Since Prigogine and Stengers. It certainly feels as if something has made it more conservative.... maybe as a reaction against neoliberalism, or, in Agamben's case because he has embraced neoliberalism? It's certainly high time to seek other voices. With respect to Kingwell's book, I do sympathize with his position that Big Tech is untrustworthy, and that we are better off looking for other solutions to our communications crisis than letting the Gurus of Tech lead us by the noses deeper into a world where AI dominates and we forget what it is to be human... At the same time, how does one know all that it means to be human. What is post-human? Perhaps more time should have been spent in fleshing out the productive differences. Who Is Or Desires to be Here?

  3. 5 out of 5

    ManMothz

    So the problem is that the modern form of boredom is when the interface of a technology replaces the actual desire to use that technology for it's desired end: searching for a show on Netflix becomes the primary activity of using Netflix. We can construe this as harmful because our desire to use the technology for it's generally assumed intended purpose is deferred until it no longer meaningfully exists. The harm of this kind of boredom is that it eliminates any useful or reflective product of p So the problem is that the modern form of boredom is when the interface of a technology replaces the actual desire to use that technology for it's desired end: searching for a show on Netflix becomes the primary activity of using Netflix. We can construe this as harmful because our desire to use the technology for it's generally assumed intended purpose is deferred until it no longer meaningfully exists. The harm of this kind of boredom is that it eliminates any useful or reflective product of past types of boredom, of which Kingwell identifies five. This complete commodification of boredom may induce passivity and numbness, states of being that boredom previously resisted. This current state of boredom could have many ramifications. The next two parts are context and do little to elaborate the argument. Instead they illuminate our post-truth moment, and suggest policy proposal's to curb that moment. These include scaffolding, which is nudging people towards better outcomes. He doesn't go into detail about what this would look like, especially noteworthy because he suggests this nudging would include penalties, which implies legal intervention. This is one possible wrinkle in his proposal that justifiably might disturb some people, but Kingwell doesn't acknowledge this possible complaint. I also think that these specific policy proposals, which are elaborated on, are not directly related to the boredom topic at hand, and do not need to be included in the context section. Give us an overview of the post-truth moment, which is valuable context to fully understand the kind of boredom we are dealing with now, and leave it at that. I will be fair, of course. It seems that Kingwell has written on this nudging before and includes sources. But WIWH isn't a long book, so a little more elaboration would have been nice. The book concludes basically the same way in which it was begun. Suggesting that we need to cultivate the virtue's gained from a more traditional boredom while doing away with the interface boredom of the present moment. It's not hugely clear on where to go from here.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Harrison

    part one is where the real philosophy lies, though it is largely summative. the rest is a series of meandering detours through the tech-inflected culture issues of today, justified by kingwell's invocation of adorno's politicization of boredom. clearly intended for a mass audience, the book I think needed some real phenomenological work in parts 2-4 to make the text coherent as a whole. to add to potential dissatisfaction, kingwell rightly indicts the corrupted system of late capital and quasi-d part one is where the real philosophy lies, though it is largely summative. the rest is a series of meandering detours through the tech-inflected culture issues of today, justified by kingwell's invocation of adorno's politicization of boredom. clearly intended for a mass audience, the book I think needed some real phenomenological work in parts 2-4 to make the text coherent as a whole. to add to potential dissatisfaction, kingwell rightly indicts the corrupted system of late capital and quasi-democratic governance structures that have led to the capture and despoiling of our boredom. but in terms of solutions, he is incredibly unwilling to advocate for anything resembling the radical change his analysis seemingly calls for -- he clearly and with a bit of a textual smile disavows Marx and the various political traditions that claim him. still, an astonishingly well-written piece of prose and something I largely enjoyed -- the text is really helpful for elucidating the present situation most Canadians (North Americans, even) find themselves in.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    I've always had a love-hate relationship with philosophy. On one hand, it's a critical field when charting the way forward. On the other hand, it's useless mind masturbation; as bad as art for the sake of art. This book falls into the latter category. It's so academic, high-brow, and referential that the only people I can see enjoying this is a philosophy major. The one thing that I'm really glad to have read was an offhand remark about how high school debate is not discourse. And that led to a I've always had a love-hate relationship with philosophy. On one hand, it's a critical field when charting the way forward. On the other hand, it's useless mind masturbation; as bad as art for the sake of art. This book falls into the latter category. It's so academic, high-brow, and referential that the only people I can see enjoying this is a philosophy major. The one thing that I'm really glad to have read was an offhand remark about how high school debate is not discourse. And that led to a rabbit hole of realizations, culminating with the one that being on the debate team was the biggest waste of my time in my life.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Gus Vassiliou

    I actually don’t fit in with the mainstream culture because I still read widely, deeply and critically. It is difficult in today’s culture to have conversations with people when they don’t know anything outside of the posts on their social media feeds. I rarely meet anyone these days who has read anything either challenging or thoroughly interpreted by words on the page. This book has - for the moment - has alleviated my depression.

  7. 4 out of 5

    James Fisher

    You'll need more than Philosophy 101 to fully appreciate this book, but I knew that going in. This is not pop-psy of the kind that appears on best-seller lists, but it is thought-provoking nonetheless, at least the parts I could grasp. Up to date observations of the times, with Facebook and Google controlling almost all knowledge of the world and of us personally, it might make you examine how you interface with The Interface. You'll need more than Philosophy 101 to fully appreciate this book, but I knew that going in. This is not pop-psy of the kind that appears on best-seller lists, but it is thought-provoking nonetheless, at least the parts I could grasp. Up to date observations of the times, with Facebook and Google controlling almost all knowledge of the world and of us personally, it might make you examine how you interface with The Interface.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Raj

    I heard an incredibly insightful podcast interview with the author (on CBC Spark) on the nature of boredom and the endless scroll so I was really looking forward to the book. The book was largely disappointing. It contained the same insights I heard in 15 minutes, but included hundreds of pages of meandering academese that often descended into standard left wing rants. Good book for a skim if you can pinpoint the good parts.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nzric

    Satisfying but not really groundbreaking meditation about boredom. The author manages to pull on a few different threads but ultimately the reasoning isn't to revelatory. Still an interesting read. Satisfying but not really groundbreaking meditation about boredom. The author manages to pull on a few different threads but ultimately the reasoning isn't to revelatory. Still an interesting read.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Juliano Gaglione

  11. 4 out of 5

    Fuyu Gao

  12. 4 out of 5

    LA Finfinger

  13. 5 out of 5

    Darrien C.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

  15. 4 out of 5

    Nick

  16. 4 out of 5

    Yukwal Wong

  17. 5 out of 5

    Milkshakes

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mistie FoolishWriter

  19. 5 out of 5

    Yuan

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jake Bos

  21. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Causier

  22. 4 out of 5

    Pierre Roy

  23. 4 out of 5

    Luca D

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

  25. 4 out of 5

    Beelzefuzz

  26. 4 out of 5

    Zachariah Michielli

  27. 4 out of 5

    Gerry Brown

  28. 4 out of 5

    YHC

  29. 5 out of 5

    Elena Coman

  30. 5 out of 5

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