Boring 2010, held in London in December, drew 200 people for 20 interminable hours. Presentations included “My Relationship With Bus Routes,” “The Intangible Beauty of Car Park Roofs,” one individual’s three year and running sneeze count, and “Personal Reflections on the English Breakfast.” All were colorless except the one about “Like Listening to Paint Dry,” in which William Barrett spent five titillating minutes reciting the names of every single one of the 415 colors listed in a paint catalog.
The Boring 2010 conference began as a joke by blogger James Ward who heard that an event called the Interesting Conference had been canceled. He jokingly Tweeted about the need to have a Boring Conference, was surprised by others’ enthusiasm over the idea and the result was a sell-out event.
The “Boring Institute” in South Orange, N.J., also started as a joke but its website now says it plays a more serious role of pointing out the dangers of boredom, namely death. People really can be bored to death: studies show that people who complain about “high levels” of boredom in their lives are at double the risk of dying from a stroke or heart disease.
In a time wrought with information-overload and too many options, are we more or less likely to be bored? “Less likely” would be the obvious answer if boredom is thought to result only from under-stimulation. But can’t we also be bored by over-stimulation? Absolutely.
The possibility of sitting and knitting for four hours straight or alphabetizing my spices and organizing my soup recipes seems excitingly under-stimulating, especially if I can do it without once hearing the bing of an email entering my inbox.
A sabbatical offers the chance to escape over-stimulation, at least for a short while, and experience the wide, open space of living without a to-do list and paring down to one or two activities that crack open our minds and cause us to think in new ways.
Maybe attendees of Boring 2010 were attracted to the event because it offered them the chance to be under-simulated for a day. That sounds very un-boring to me. Sign me up.