Bored and lonely? Blame your phone.

“Our emotions today are radically different from what 19th-century Americans felt. That’s partly due to technology.”

The headline makes it sound like another “turn off your facebooks” article, but it’s a fascinating interview with Susan J. Matt about how we’ve talked about and related to boredom over the last couple of centuries.


Brain metaphors

The process of adapting to new intellectual technologies is reflected in the changing metaphors we use to explain ourselves to ourselves. When the mechanical clock arrived, people began thinking of their brains as operating “like clockwork.” Today, in the age of software, we have come to think of them as operating “like computers.” But the changes, neuroscience tells us, go much deeper than metaphor. Thanks to our brain’s plasticity, the adaptation occurs also at a biological level.

Just another thing on the internet

One of the attendees wears a T-shirt depicting Harambe, the zoo gorilla whose death had been an Internet sensation shortly after Dat Boi faded from memory. Marantz asks him to explain it: “‘It’s a funny thing people say, or post, or whatever,’ he said. ‘It’s, like—it’s just a thing on the internet.’” Marantz pauses to emphasize his own familiarity with the sort of numbness that goes with experiencing “much of life through the mediating effects of a screen,” and observes, “It wasn’t hard for me to imagine how anything—a dead gorilla, a gas chamber, a presidential election, a moral principle—could start to seem like just another thing on the internet.”

Magical scientist ability

[...] metaphor is more than a classroom aid. It is a crucial element of discovery and invention. Scientists are not blessed with a magical ability to apprehend the world as a vortex of symbols and equations, as Neo appeared to do in the film The Matrix. Scientists, like everyone else, seek to cast what they see in terms of what they have already seen.

Metaphier and metaphrand

Jaynes described a metaphor as comprising of two parts. The metaphrand is the thing to be described or understood, and the metaphier is the more familiar thing with which it is compared. The human body is a very common metaphier; we speak of the head of a table, the foot of a mountain, the face and hands of a clock, and the mouth of a river.

Superorganism mind

I think the assumption of a high degree of common interest is important to this idea of a superorganism, the expectation that it acts as a unitary, cognitive entity. In other societies where the integration is not as tight, it might be less fruitful to treat them as a single mind.


Obviously, there are a lot of differences between insect societies and human societies. If we find commonalities in how they behave, maybe that’s revealing.

The power of metaphor

To fully appreciate the power of metaphor (and it’s more formal cousin, analogy), we must look to its oft-neglected role in science and technology. We speak of a genetic “code” or “blueprint”. We explain the structure of the atom to schoolchildren by analogy with the solar system. We think of the brain as a machine, or a computer, or a social network. These metaphors and analogies can help impart new ideas to the student and the layperson.

Writing is a process of discovery

There is, however, one thing to learn from writers that non-writers don’t always understand. Most writers don’t write to express what they think. They write to figure out what they think. Writing is a process of discovery. Blogging is an essential tool toward meditating over an extended period of time on a subject you consider to be important.