Boring Conference 2010: Chairman of the bored
Having long pondered life's least interesting topics, James Ward has organised a conference to explore them further
Thursday 07 October 2010
Ever wondered about the best way to catalogue a tie collection or pondered the intangible beauty of car park roofs? Just what is the attraction of computer games which allow players to simulate being a bus driver? And does semi-skimmed milk differ in taste depending on which supermarket it is purchased from?
To some, the answer to these and other slightly absurd questions might seem inconsequential. But for James Ward, they are of sufficient interest to merit organising Britain's first conference dedicated entirely to pushing back the boundaries of humanity's knowledge of, well, boring stuff.
Suitably entitled "Boring 2010", the inaugural gathering of up to 25 experts on some of the more obscure areas of human endeavour will take place in central London in December after Mr Ward, a DVD distribution manager, was inundated with requests when he floated the idea half-jokingly on Twitter.
The gathering, which will take place before an audience of 200 aficionados of the esoteric, is intended to be an unofficial successor to the "Interesting" conferences, a cult movement of talks about obscure subjects which has spread to New York and Vancouver but whose London event was cancelled this year.
Mr Ward, 29, from Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, said: "I was looking forward to this year's Interesting conference, so when I saw it had been cancelled I put a message on my Twitter suggesting it would be a good idea to get lots of speakers on strange subjects that sounded boring but somehow turned out to be really interesting. I wasn't really being serious, but I got so many replies saying it was a good idea that I felt obliged to push ahead with it. It has mushroomed from getting 25 people in a room somewhere to a full-blown conference. It just shows you should be careful what you Tweet but hopefully we can all bond in a common interest in specifics."
The event, whose speakers will include cultural historian Joe Moran and screenwriter Jon Ronson, author of the Hollywood hit The Men Who Stare at Goats, is evidence of the growing popularity of eccentricity, ranging from BBC2's Genius programme, in which weird inventions are "stress-tested" by celebrities, to increased interest in the Ig Nobel prizes for obscure academic research.
Among the subjects which will be tackled at Boring 2010 are the history of dust, the purpose of vending machines and the reasons for draws in cricket Test matches. Organisers are also considering holding a live game of computerised solitaire transmitted on to an overhead screen together with a live commentary.
The conference is Mr Ward's latest foray into the world of the bizarre. He is the co-founder of the Stationery Club, which is similar to a book club with the difference that its members meet regularly to muse on the qualities of a particular ballpoint pen or note pad.
Earlier this year, the club held a special event to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Post-it note.
Mr Ward said: "I don't actually want people to be bored. I want to make the point that things which might seem mundane or boring actually become interesting the more attention you pay to them."
For those who have always wondered how to organise their cravats, a users guide to tie organisation. Tips on how to distinguish neckwear on the basis of colour, material, thickness, pattern and style. Advanced learners will also be introduced to the "smartness index".
Possibly a first in beverage research, a self-declared expert in all matters lactic will stage a live comparative tasting of different types of milk (whole, semi-skimmed, UHT) from different supermarkets and shops seeking to establish variations in taste, consistency and colour. Audience participation welcomed.
Municipal plug points
Where are the best places to charge a mobile phone in a public building? What is the price to the taxpayer of people plugging in their laptops in libraries?
Are power sockets public property? These, and other questions, will be answered in a talk entitled: "The Ease of Extracting Electricity from Muncipal Buildings in the Metropolis and Beyond: A Comparison."
Car park roofs
To many, the urban multi-storey is an unloved blot on the landscape but few consider how the top floor is a hidden oasis of calm in a crowded world. Visitors can enjoy uninterrupted views of their surroundings, untroubled by motorists who prefer the lower floors. Where better to eat a lunchtime sandwich?
So, did last year's agenda live up to its billing?
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What's cool? What's daggy? Who decides? Remo learned the anatomy (and alchemy) of cool by observing a kid named Bob D'Angelo in a school playground circa 1973.
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Who types the stories that the De Niros of the world speak? Why don't writers speak? Speakers write. Why aren't we telling our own stories?
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Millions are invested translating words to explain products across lingual markets. But what about the visuals? Some eye-opening examples reveal that icons and images too often fail the needs of their audience.
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Improv can save the world, end all wars and make everything better. It teaches you to say "yes"; to listen; it forces you to work with people and not against them in a creative and constructive manner.
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Learn how powerful the "placebo effect" can be in medicine and human behaviour. The presenters have an abid- ing interest in the topic and a surprising proposal: we should consent to the administration of placebos even – especially – when we're critically ill.
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