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Boredom is one of the '100 Things We've Lost to the Internet'

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

We're nearing the end of the year that Facebook became Meta. That's their way of promoting the metaverse, an even more all-consuming version of the internet. It's also been a full year of online shopping for some as people avoid crowded stores. Now, it's hard to say how much more of our lives will move online, but Pamela Paul argues it's gone pretty far already. She's the editor of The New York Times Book Review, and she spoke recently with Steve Inskeep about her book "100 Things We've Lost To The Internet."

PAMELA PAUL: I was walking down the street - 40th Street - heading into my office at The New York Times, and I was thinking, of course, about a million things. And I was obviously texting while walking, which is really dangerous and I don't advise it and I do it anyway. And at that moment, I got a notification on my phone that said, you have a new memory, which is a really weird sentence. Like, what does that mean? And what it was delivering, from somewhere within the bowels of the iPhone, was a series of photos from four years ago taken in Sydney, Australia, from a visit to the Sydney Zoo. Why then? I don't know. Like, what - was it an algorithm that said, she needs to see this? But suddenly, mentally now, I'm thinking about four years ago, that afternoon at the Sydney, you know, literary festival where I took a few hours off and went to see the koalas. And it's just weird because I'm on 40th Street - right? - and I should be in the here and now, and yet I'm in 16 different places, emotionally and mentally.

I remember what it was like where you just woke up on a Saturday morning, and that was all there was, you know? Like, maybe your friends were off somewhere doing something. Maybe your family was off doing something, but it wasn't your concern. It wasn't immediately inside your head.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

My friend Peter Sagal, who's a runner, wrote a book about running - says that he has stopped listening to things, stopped having earbuds in while he's running, because while he's running is the only time in his entire day, in his entire life, when he does not have a constant stream of inputs.

PAUL: Absolutely. The first thing in the book - the first thing that we lost is boredom. And that's where this book began, with an op ed that I wrote for The Times, because we never stop having information and, like, little bits of emotional stimuli enter our sort of brain space. And in order to either be in the moment completely mindlessly or to generate that thing we call output - like, to have an original idea or to do something creative or just to have suddenly something sort of strike you, quote-unquote, "out of nowhere" - you have to stop all that input. And yet, because we have this phone/portable internet on us at all times, we never have those moments anymore, right? And we're all guilty of it, me included.

INSKEEP: You put card catalogs on your list of things that are lost, and they've been gone for a couple of decades now, if not more. Why do you put that on the list?

PAUL: Because they got lost really when libraries became computerized. And again, there's a lot to be said for what the internet has brought to the library. You can now go online and reserve a book and get a notification when the book is in. Having access to e-books, if that's the way you like to read - that's also a great thing. But what has happened is that when you lose the card catalog - which is something that I, being a very kind of word-bound, book-centric kid, I liked to really explore those and sort of discover what was in the library - you lose some of the serendipity - right? - of discovering things on your own.

INSKEEP: I feel like there's a common theme here that you're not just missing things that you miss. I feel that you are arguing that even though, in many ways, we are better informed than ever before and can be smarter than ever before, we're not thinking the same way and we're not thinking as well.

PAUL: I do think that we've lost the ability to think clearly because we're constantly, you know, overwhelmed. I think that human beings have not psychologically or physically adjusted to the speed and the size of the internet. It's like we're constantly in fast-forward and we're experiencing a sort of daily sense of whiplash. It's why it's so hard to fall asleep at night because it feels like you have a hundred sort of loose threads.

INSKEEP: Well, you know, it's been pleasant talking with you because I've gone several minutes without checking my phone.

PAUL: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: Pamela Paul is the author of "100 Things We've Lost To The Internet." Thanks so much.

PAUL: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LUSINE'S "STRATUS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.