Ennui

What if you sign up for cryonics, wake up in a future utopia, but there is nothing fun to do? Or what if Friendly AI eliminates the need for human labor? What do we do next?

It’s easy to imagine that one might enjoy they typically do on the weekends, but this would get boring after a while. This is a major point of the Fun Theory Sequence.

Boredom is the root of the biggest problem in utopia: What will we do in world where we are not really needed for anything?

I expect the listlessness stemming from not having a purpose, or ennui, to be the last challenge of a utopian society. The question of how to deal with ennui often features in science fiction utopias such as the Culture series, where some characters solve this problem by engaging in extreme sports like lava rafting.

A tweet by Helen Toner on this same question inspired me to write up a list of what people might actually find themselves doing each day.

  • Sports. Think of how many new sports can be invented when people have more time on their hands.
  • Board Games, Card Games, Video Games, etc.
  • TV and Movies
  • Live action role playing games. Once again, with more time on peoples hands, these could be multi-day or multi-month affairs.
  • Pure Hedonism: Sex, Drugs, etc.
  • Other Hobbies
  • Religion. I don’t see worship going away in utopia. People can use organized religion to add community, meaning, and structure into their lives.
  • Science, Math and Engineering. Though most major problems will be solved by the time we reach utopia, there are still lots of interesting things for people to discover and invent.
  • Volunteer or paid work. This might include traditional volunteer work, basic service jobs such as bartending, tutoring, childcare, or elder care.
  • Taking care of animals
  • Space Exploration
  • Lifelong learning
  • Watching others do all of these things. For example, most of YouTube and Twitch today involve people living vicariously through others by watching them do something.

Note that these things are not purely fun. Many of them are valuable because they provide meaning, conflict, and challenge to people’s lives. Adding these elements is essential to maintaining fulfillment.

In truth, these forms of entertainment are more important for near-term utopias. I expect that in the longer term, citizens may not crave the same type of purpose that people seek today. Alternatively, people may find ways to suffuse meaning into every moment of their lives, or attain higher levels of fulfillment than we can even comprehend.

However, considering how a utopia can become reality in ways that modern people can relate to might help inspire others to strive for a better world. Because of this, I think it’s worth dreaming of a utopia that I can understand and work towards.

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