Boring stories. We’ve all either been victim or culprit, and the reactions are all too familiar. Noting a gap in ongoing conversation, and a relevant topic we can hook ourselves onto, we gain the attention of the floor. As we set the scene, our captive audience awaits. We draw them in with familiar emotions, we introduce noteworthy characters, and then...it’s over. “Is that it?” someone exclaims. “I thought there was going to be a punchline”. The captive audience, once on our side, turns to the new joker and laughs, ensuring that you are now the aforementioned punchline. “That’s it”, you shame-facedly admit, glancing away, trying to fall into your shoes. You mutter a murmured apology. You’ve told a boring story.
And then you kick yourself. Because, chances are, had you taken a chance to consider it, you could’ve predicted that the story would have won an Oscar in the boring category. Or, if someone else had told the story, you would’ve been the one wise-cracking in the corner. So why do we continue to tell stories which have no significant moments, and which inhabit the mind-numbingly mundane?
In order to answer this question, we have explored some of the ironically memorable boring stories heard by members of team dott to see if we can identify some themes, and put together an entirely unscientific scientific theory.
1. Incidents of minor irritation
Often this category can come across merely as ‘things that happen’.
“Earlier my mum dropped milk on my shoe. So I wiped it off.”
Short and sweet.
[Disclosure – I’m always the guilty party here. But, I mean, it’s that moment when you’ve woken up and you’re weirded out by the capacity of your brain create such bizarre mental landscapes and then to become so emotionally invested in them. And you just want to share it…every morning.]
“So…I had this really weird dream last night. I had nits…but they weren’t nits, they were really small badgers in my hair. Not only that, they were really evil cartoon badgers whose long teeth and claws were the things that grabbed onto my luscious locks and got stuck in there. So throughout this dream I was trying to grab the small evil badgers and pull them out of my hair and chuck them into a bucket, but they wouldn’t stay in the bucket and they would keep going back into my hair and so it became a never-ending cycle of pull, chuck, return, pull, chuck, return…” And the response to this was “Right. And this is something I’m supposed to care about why?” In hindsight, fair enough.
3. Re-collections of activities of no interest.
To be exact: re-collections of activities of high interest to the recollector, but no interest to anyone else. This is a case of severely misjudging your audience; in fact, ignoring them completely. It is almost narcissistic in purely serving the desires and whims of the teller:
“I once had to sit through an entire dinner listening to a gentleman describe a chess game - move for move - that he played in the 1980s. On paper, he was actually a pretty cool dude: He was a chess grandmaster who had invented a very profitable chessboard back in the 90s (yes, apparently people are still inventing chessboards) and who used the funds to travel the world with his wife. When I met him, he had visited 94 countries and had more planned for the next few months. Unfortunately, when you actually sat down to talk with him, he was incredibly, painfully, mind-bogglingly dull. As much as I tried to shift the conversation to anything non-chess related, he deftly manoeuvred the dialogue back to the game and the mistakes his partner made throughout the contest: '...and then he moved the Bishop to E4, I mean how stupid is that? Right?!'. Against my will, I learned a lot about chess that evening - and I also learned that if I ever find myself sharing a dinner table with a professional chess player, I might want to get my food to go.”
4. The definition of boring
These stories are the peak, the epitome, the definition of boring. They are SO disappointingly dull that they go full circle and become legendary. The teller becomes forevermore inextricably associated with their story – which is quite funny, but unfortunate if you are, in fact, the teller. In my group of friends, this is “The Pizza Story”. Told originally with no sense of irony by my friend, it has now reached a legendary status and a recounting of the incident is now requested at every drunken occasion. It begins with such potential, such expected intrigue. But it has now become something which we collectively bond over:
“I decided to spend the glorious summer of 2009 up North in the famed town of Scunthorpe working in a steel factory. It was a fairly conventional housing arrangement; I lived with a doctor, and ice cream man, his wife from Thailand and a man (presumed) who I never actually saw.
It was a typical week day, and I returned home about 4pm with a standard evening of tedium and loneliness ahead. Around supper time (approximately 5pm), I ventured down into town to sort out dinner, and as a result I purchased a reduced-price 3-cheese pizza from Lidl. Content with my fine purchase, I wandered home to fire up the oven and get the show on the road. However, on this fateful day, the oven refused to turn on. There was no life in it at all, and I could not cook the pizza. Dismayed, I gave up and threw the pizza in the bin. I walked across the road (to the vastly closer Sainsbury’s) and bought a microwave pizza. I ate this instead”.
And so, this leads neatly to a conclusion – something which I think reveals something quite telling about human nature. To start with, an insight: boring stories are never boring to the narrator. They always draw on an emotion – irritation, confusion, fascination and so on – an emotion which has to be of reasonable significance during our day, because we feel inexplicably compelled to tell other people about it. And why? We are seeking empathy, or validation, or response – we want our audience to relate to our emotion; to acknowledge it.
However, from the audience’s perspective, we come to a second insight: other people will never care as much about our emotions as we care about our own. These emotions – irritation, or confusion, or fascination – become diluted when they reach the ears of the receiver. For whilst I care about the fact there was no food in the shop because I was hungry and wanted to eat food, I don’t really care that much that there wasn’t food in the shop when you went. That is because I am fundamentally self-centred, and I want to hear things of high interest, high intrigue, high shock. Things that will surprise me, things that will add to my repertoire of re-telling. This is where the disconnect comes from: humans care about things that happen to them, but have to be driven to care about things that happen to someone else. Things of mild emotional value have no emotional value in the minds of someone else.
And there we have it – we’ve succeeded in doing almost the opposite – making something out of nothing. Congratulations dott.
Author: Vicky Noble