Boredom as a Motivating Factor in Open Source Development

Posted on May 07, 2007

In a recent article entitled: “The Awesome Power of Spare Cycles,” author Chris Anderson suggests that much of the human potential lies untapped. We end up becoming bench-warmers in the work force. His theory is that in between our primary functions at work or in between the over-loaded blocks of time in our busy lives; we have spare cycles, like computers, that lie untapped.

He appears to have named this untapped energy, “boredom;” and suggests that it could be a motivating factor for many great things such as OSS and user-generated content.

Some people argue the terminology.

But what is boredom?

bored
adjective
feeling tired and unhappy because something is not interesting or because you have nothing to do:

I’m sure it’s impossible to generalize that all open-source projects are motivated by boredom; but I wouldn’t put it too far off the mark to do so. To be “unhappy” with something is an expression of dissatisfaction or frustration. Is it then so far-fetched to say that we are bored with our free time? The source of our unhappiness may be that we have nothing satisfactory to do with our “spare cycles.” Therefore we turn our energies to something that will make us happy.

For many, myself included, our best time is when we are interested and satisfied with what we are occupied with. This can be a good thing (or bad, depending on what interests you) that leads to people doing great things to change the world around them. However, in the end it’s not a selfless act.

Perhaps Chris is right.