April 11, 1954: A date that will live in monotony

Posted: Monday, December 06, 2010

All hail the march of science. The cure for cancer or even the common cold eludes us, but we can now say definitively that we know the date of the Most Boring Day ever:

Sunday, April 11, 1954.

That's the date that popped out after computer experts from the United Kingdom's University of Cambridge fed 300 million digital snippets of world events, weighed for interest and importance, into a computer program called True Knowledge. In the United States, that day in history saw Dwight Eisenhower tapping putts in the Oval Office, Bob Hope big at the box office, and Perry Como topping the pop charts (Bill Haley and the Comets were due into the recording studio Monday, April 12, 1954, to put "Rock Around the Clock" on vinyl - but who knew?): Nothing to raise a pulse or disturb a good afternoon nap.

Not that boring is bad. For generations of Americans yet living, April 11, 1954, was apparently nothing like the exhilarating days of June 6, 1944, (the morning of the D-Day landing at Normandy), or Oct. 28, 1962, (the 13th day of the Cuban Missile Crisis), or a different 11th, in September 2001. When we look at the world-historical events that get out hearts racing, excitement is overrated - and boredom gets a bad rap.

And yet, examined from a more intimate angle, the whole scientific exercise demonstrates what we might call the relativity of boredom. Across the United States, 11,104 people died on April 11, 1954 - an average taken from the U.S. Statistical Abstract/1954 - some of them, it's safe to imagine, suddenly and violently. It doesn't take extraordinary empathy to posit that April 11 was not boring for them, or for the loved ones they left behind. That same day across the country, 11,172 new babies came caterwauling into the world, with a nearly matching number of exhausted and excited parents for whom the word boring will never define that day. It's a helpful reminder that we live our lives in the singular, not the aggregate. Mass emotions are no match for the intensity of the small world that is each life.

But science welcomes skepticism, so, with a nod to the Cambridge compu-geeks, I used the most powerful tool at my disposal - Google - and poked around for some things that happened April 11, 1954, that would prove the Arbiters of Boredom wrong. I learned that on April 11, 1954, the New York Yankees acquired Enos Slaughter from the St. Louis Cardinals for four minor leaguers, and Slaughter went on to lead the Yankees to a 103-win season. Then again, when your "This Day in History" entry is a reference to a pro baseball trade, maybe we didn't need a computer to figure out it was the Most Boring Day after all.

The bad news is that - for the more than 200 million currently breathing Americans not yet born on April 11, 1954 - we missed it. After living through the assassinations of JFK, MLK, RFK and John Lennon, after enduring the crash of the Challenger, Wall Street and our 401(k)s, after witnessing natural calamities like Katrina and the debut of Lady Gaga - haven't we earned our shot at epic boredom?

So here's a new project for the computer geniuses who pinned down History's Most Boring Day: Please sit down at the keyboard, feed in all the mayhem swirling around us at the moment - the wars, recession, terror plots and nuclear madmen - calibrate for the horrors history tells us are yet to come, and ask, "When will we see another day of unrelieved boredom?" When you get your answer, try to give us 24 hours' notice, so we can all enjoy what April 11, 1954, must have felt like.

• Daniel McGroarty, principal of Carmot Strategic Group, an issues management firm in Washington, served in senior positions in the White House and at the Department of Defense. Readers may send him e-mail at dmcg@carmotsg.com.



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