I am ready for the end of the tax-document-preparation season. I’ve been getting things billed as Important Tax Documents for weeks now and this is enough. I want someone to send me some Unimportant Tax Documents. I want some agency to send me IRS Form 1099-MEH.
Do you remember being bored? I mean, boredom is still with us. But it’s attenuated now, chopped up into small bits of boredom between something exciting happening on Facebook or watching the spectacle of the Future Disgraced Former President’s self-immolation or the like. And a lot of that is still an expression of boredom, since boredom is the state in which anything is sufficient to hold our attention. A video of a bird putting a cover on a cat isn’t actually interesting, but compared to nothing going on, it’s interesting enough.
But back in the days, we could be bored in quantity. Just have days, especially summer ones, when time stretched out and there wasn’t any prospect of something asking for attention. I’m not saying those were better days. They weren’t. By nearly all measures we are so much better off today that we have cell phones and abundant Internet and are never that far from someone we want to communicate with or something we find entertaining to watch or do.
In this Vic and Sade episode, from the 13th of June, 1939, it’s the boring part of summer. And the best of all possible things happens: something exciting comes up. A good part of an old building collapses. Rush gets to see it. And one of his friends is inspired. He turns something already exciting into a performance. Maybe it’s the sort of thing that could happen today. But I do wonder if it takes being bored, and knowing what the face of long stretches of quiet, inactive summer evenings imply, to see a chance like this and make it something even more.
So it struck me that I had a great idea for a quasi-reality TV show, in the vein of those shows on the Boring Channel where a camera crew descends on a house or apartment or restaurant or whatever, rips everything out while host hollers at the owner, and has brand-new everything put in so the house or apartment or restaurant looks like every other one of its species on the Boring Channel. In this case, though, we’d go in to some piece of software that does something useful, but that has a horrible user interface, rip out the interface and replace it with something that’s actually been thought out and can be used by people to do what the software’s good at.
And then I remembered: nobody knows how to make a thoughtful user interface anymore. We just muddle through terrible experiences until we get used to the exactly one way we can get this software to do the one blasted thing we want it to do anymore. Then they update the software and that way goes away. So we couldn’t even put in a new interface after all.
Then, too, I realized the cinematography problem. When you tear out and rebuild a home or business at least you have great scenes of wood and metal and plastic getting ripped out by teams of handy men who look much more competent than you, and you get to see pipes and wires and old insulation and stuff. That’s just good TV. Computer programming, though, that’s nothing but people in sweatpants typing. In your older generation of programmers they also swap Monty Python quotes so worn down that only homeopathic traces of humor remain in them. In the younger generation, I don’t know what they over-quote. Steven Universe or something. It’s hard to come up with something more intensely boring that isn’t one of those Scandinavian TV channels showing eighteen hours of felled tree trunks streaming down the river.
All that’s left is having the host hollering at some computer-software company owner. That’d be fun, all right, but I can’t see that getting the kind of ratings the Boring Channel demands. Maybe some streaming media company with tighter budgets and lower distribution costs would bite. No way to tell how to get in touch with one, though. All their contact information is hidden on their web sites.
Let me address the first question about my checking out Christopher Moore’s Three Weeks In Quebec City: The Meeting That Made Canada from the library. No, every other book was not checked out. However, it’s true the book I really wanted, a 288-page book about rust, isn’t due back until mid-October. I concede people might think 262 pages about the 1864 conference which laid down the principles for the British North America Act of 1867 would be a little dry. They’re mistaken. It was very rainy the whole first week. (I haven’t gotten to the second week yet.) And, hey, the meeting had not one but two people named John Hamilton Gray attending. They won’t be confused because John Hamilton Gray was from a completely different part of Maritime Canada than was John Hamilton Gray.
But it’s got me thinking about my reading. The kind way to look at it is I’m broad-minded. If someone’s gone to the trouble of writing a book about the modern pasta technology it’s only decent I read it, right? But I know deep down I go in skeptically, figuring, how could there be a book’s worth of material about this? It turned out well. I got to see baffling pictures of extruded pasta under a microscope, and got to see hundreds of uses of the word “extrude”. Is it a boring topic? Maybe, but at least I only borrowed the book from the university library. I own two books about the history of containerized cargo and have a distinct preference for one of them. And I’m a little sad that neither the city nor the university library have enough books about the sociology of bureaucracy for my tastes.
Am I a boring person? I don’t think so. Of course I have an interest in not thinking so. If I didn’t think I was interesting how could I bear to be with someone who’s sure there’s a snappy 4X video game to be made out of time zones? My love does it, so it can’t be just me. Well, 3X anyway. The best X’s.
But then is anything actually boring? Stare directly at the boring and you’ll find fascination staring back at you. You ever notice those big plastic signs stuck in the ground outside decaying strip malls, that tell you where to find prepaid cell phones? Those were manufactured. Someone made them. So someone either grew up wanting to make those, or else the twists and turns of that person’s life turned “making those things” into the sensible thing to do. Either way that’s a story.
More, someone invented that. Humanity was fine without those things for tens of thousands of years, then suddenly we weren’t. It’s easy to imagine making the first; someone had an odd impulse to make a nylon-or-something sign that would plunge easily into the ground. It needs no explanation to say why someone did that once. People will try all kinds of odd things and most of them don’t amount to worse than an explanation to the clerk at the emergency room admissions. But society was ready to pick up this idea and run with it. How did we get to that point? Again, this boring thing is fascinating.
But we shouldn’t mistake being bored with not finding stuff interesting. Boredom is the state where anything, anything at all, is interesting enough to pay attention to. A clock trudging clockwise? A squirrel berating a flower pot? A TV show about the making of how-to-make-stuff TV shows? That tuft of fur the pet rabbit can’t quite blow off his nose? That’s all it takes to hold your interest when you’re bored.
And bored is the natural state anymore. We aren’t busy on cell phones all day long because it’s all that interesting. We’re there because we’re in a boring room anyway, or bored waiting for the interesting thing to get started. Someone you kind of know who’s a friend of someone you kind of used to know sends around a page of philosophy quotes married to pictures of otters? A list of human tragedies immortalized as restaurant offerings? The surprisingly late date when car license plate sizes were standardized? Movies watched by Jimmy Carter while he was president? That’s as good as organizing the federal government of Canada.
Doubt me? Here’s a 6500-word essay about the history of disposable coffee cup lids. You can insist you’re ignoring it. (It’s got some jumbled text that looks like sidebars were poorly merged into the main.) But if you do, you’ll know there’s stuff someone wrote about the different eras in disposable lid design that you haven’t seen yet. The world may be boring us, but that doesn’t mean we can ever really look away.