A few weeks ago, your intrepid editor and myself traipsed over to Hackney to take in the Boring Conference. We arrived slightly late, as we were interviewing Marcus Chown that morning but still managed to hear about Budgens, About a Boy, bar codes and the sound of vending machines. All this was topped off by Adam Curtis talking about the bits of video between videos on the BBC and wondering if we are experiencing cultural stagnation akin to the end of Soviet Russia.
The Boring conference wonderfully pokes fun about the attendees and speakers own geekiness and love of the obscure, pedantic and in any other hands, the boring. It was delightful and each talk was a surprise either through making the otherwise beige content interesting or often very funny, though some elements didn’t work for me: the possible post-modern jokes in between speakers (but maybe I’m missing something because of my innate foreignness); the venue’s acoustics from way in the back; and the venue was rather cold after the afternoon sun started to dip.
Those, though, are ephemeral notes compared to the content of the conference which was excellent. Matt Parker was on top form (as usual) giving an extended talk about bar codes. If you’ve seen him at the Uncaged Monkey tour or other events, you may have seen it part of the act before. However, he expanded on the original theme and ventured into the wonderful world of QR codes which was amazing for its capacity for redundancy. A highlight for me was the improbable yet prodigious amounts photographs from location research for Stanley Kubrick, the talk given by Jon Ronson. As James said at the time, it was like the equivalent of Google Streetview from when Eyes Wide Shut was filmed. It was absolutely ridiculous. I found myself oddly fascinated by the vending machine noise talk given by Felicity Ford, recent PhD graduate from Oxford-Brookes.
The finale with Adam Curtis turned the very idea of the Boring Conference on its head, wondering if the concept of the Boring Conference fit it with the idea of cultural stagnation. Perhaps not the best way to end the night, giving a overall critique of our inability to escape from our current predicament, but definitely food for thought.
Who knows if there will be a Boring Conference 2012, perhaps the cultural malaise and stagnation will have taken us through boring and into ennui. I’m not sure what kind of conference that would make. But congratulations to James Ward for making the Boring Conference 2011 thoroughly enjoyable.