The grumbling pitchfork
Fancy being bossed about by your microwave?
The Circling Fin
Cartoonist Hugh MacLeod once observed: “Never compare your inside to somebody else’s outside.” Good to remember next time you gaze upon the perfected visage of a celebrity.
But it’s not just a matter of reminding yourself that screen idols are flesh, blood and botox: the principle also holds at the basic level of family and friends: Their ‘insides’ are taken up with dramas of which one knows little. There’s every chance that a neighbour’s cross expression yesterday was the consequence of a heated argument with a loved one from years ago.
That’s humans for you. Half the time we are imagining new endings to old dramas. Nobody, to my knowledge, is sailing along through life. Everybody has an inside, and it is often a different world from the outside. But contemporary technology, especially Facebook, has eroded the walls between private and public, producing occasional, sometimes alarming, online update such as ‘I never get it right’ or ‘Lonely tonight … again’.
Sometimes that digitised cry for help is quite literal. One of my own online friends from eight time-zones away once appealed for a kidney for her husband. I had never met him and only knew the woman herself through my job. I wasn’t about to fly to another continent to donate an organ to a stranger – but would it really do to press a ‘Like’ button? And surely a few words saying, ‘best of luck’ would be worse than useless. My reaction was typically male of course. I avoided Facebook until her update had vanished off screen.
Not long ago, the latest item on the carousel of tech marvels we have become accustomed to was unveiled: an ink pen which vibrates when you make a grammatical mistake. Perhaps we’ll all have one in our pocket someday; perhaps, like penny-farthing bicycles and Guinness Light, this invention will vanish without a trace.
But, along with cars commenting on your driving and word processors objecting to your punctuation, is this schoolmasterly pen the harbinger of a new era when we grant our tools a veto over our actions? A time when your pitchfork objects to unseasonal planting? Or your microwave complains about the health effects of reheating a triple cheeseburger?
If so the day can hardly be far off when Facebook or Twitter raise a virtual hand of protest when we threaten to blow the lid off our private torments. Or perhaps it will be the other way around: perhaps our tools will protest we are being too bland, too unrevealing? The antics of that beloved pussycat you keep filming for YouTube are, after all, so yesterday.
Fin Keegan is a writer based in Westport. This column is based on his weekly radio essay, heard on WRFM radio, and online at thecirclingfin.com.