Boring: “causing weariness and restlessness through lack of interest” (Merriam-Webster)
What makes a thing boring? Surely boringess is not a quality inherent to a thing. We know this because something that numbs my mind could cause yours to spark, and frequently does. Beyond such a basic acknowledgment that boringess is the eye of the beholder, it must also be true that boringness (like beauty) is shaped by larger social or cultural forces. We learn—from parents and teachers, from friends and rivals, from newscasters and advertisers—what is worth attending. I’m interested (and this blog is interested) in things that we are often told are boring: numbers, insurance, bureaucracy, budgets…I’m not alone in this interest, I know. The great ethnographer of infrastructures, Susan Leigh Star, co-founded a Society of People Interested in Boring Things in the 1990s. And all around me I see people devoted to studying the abstruse, ordinary, and geeky. This is crucial work.
Because much that is said to be boring is also incredibly important. Boring things structure our individual and collective lives. In fact, a person prone to cynicism or suspicion might wonder if many things are “made to seem” boring, precisely to keep us riff-raff out. When someone says: “nothing to see here. Just technical, boring stuff…” That’s when my ears perk up. That’s when we all should say, “not so fast.” Our job here is to tear back the cloaks that shroud important, vital, powerful things and make them appear “boring.”