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Category: Humans

Hard Cell
I want to tell
the man bellowing into his phone
Your cell-mate can hear you
even if you chirp
like a tufted titmouse
and not
a Great Woolly Mammoth
Open Seating
I was at a hotel recently where the toilet seats flapped down on their own. In order to pee, you had to hold the seat fast against the tank or risk urinatus interruptus.

As many men have, I've given in to women's demands to leave the seat down - in theory if not in practice. Though the rationale for such gentlemanly behavior might be debatable under certain circumstances, I find that the debate itself can lead to hard feelings all around.

I hope that the seats at the Hotel St. George flapped down not by design but through some accident of installation. I would hate to think that Ramon Asensio, CEO of Roca Bathroom Products, had decided that the seats down edict should become mandatory. Such an intrusion of corporate power into the War Between the Sexes would certainly lead to more hard feelings than a mere debate.

Some men (not me, I should stress) might be so affronted by this shift in the balance of power that they would be tempted to simply leave the seat down when peeing. This dangerous escalation would require much more care and self-control than just remembering to put that flapper down.

I hope we don't go there (if you know what I mean). After all, everyone has to sit down sometimes.
Never Mind
Let me declare right off that I have nothing against labor saving devices. I like having my labor saved as much as the next person. I have resolved, however, that my affection for these tools will not blind me to their hidden costs.

A hammer, for instance, can really speed up the process of driving nails — especially if you’ve been using a big rock. A hammer will cost you a few dollars, but the hidden cost of the hammer is its weakening effect on our rock-wielding skills. If you put me into a home-building contest against some prehistoric carpenter and limit us to using only his tools, then Ugg is going to win the hut-off every time.

Now, you might suggest that pounding nails with a rock is not really such a valuable skill to lose, and you might be right. Even if civilization somehow lurches backward a couple of steps, there will still be plenty of hammers around for neo-Neolithic builders to use. Things would really have to turn sour before humans would need to re-acquire their stone tool expertise.

These issues might not be so clear-cut, however, if the tools in question are the home computer and the World Wide Web. The kinds of labor these devices save are of a different type than pounding nails. With computers, the hidden costs come in the form of a dulled memory, a blunting of our problem-solving skills, and a general decline in cognitive abilities. Who needs a memory when you have all that data on your desktop? Why nurture your cognition if you’ve got Google? And what’s the point of problem-solving acumen if there’s an app for that?

You don’t have to be a Luddite to be a little troubled by this seeming diminution of our powers. You can love computers and still be alarmed by their effect on us. You might wonder, for instance, does our reliance on these tools portend a decline for our species? Does our dependence on them make us vulnerable to sudden societal changes? Are we doomed?

Well, don’t worry — we have our best philosophers working on it. And so it is that Andy Clark and David Chalmers have stepped forward with the concept of The Extended Mind. According to them, we should not view these digital wonders as tools at all, but rather as extensions of ourselves. Not as crutches for our minds but as parts of them.

Under this theory, the horizon of our consciousness and control extends to the furthest reach of our instrumentalities. The hammer becomes a part of our hand, and the smart phone becomes an upgrade for our mind. That grocery list is a part of our memory, and the web is an extension of our ever-expanding brilliance.

So we’re not getting smaller, we’re getting bigger! Also smarter, deeper, and more godlike! I like thinking of myself this way, and I want to thank Andy and Dave for providing the philosophical underpinning to do so. It’s a total rush, man.

I just wish I could have made the high keep on going. When it faded, I was still left with the question, “So what?” So what if my self spreads outward with every new invention and interplanetary probe? If the asteroid hits and civilization crumbles, I’m all the way back to a hairless, talking ape, only this time I’ve forgotten how to take care of myself.

I’m going to keep using my computer, and I will continue to surf the web. For now, I am willing to accept the trade off that may end up destroying my mind. This bargain did, after all, save me the labor of researching Andy and Dave’s work the old fashioned way by getting me there with just the touch of a button. Which gave me the time I needed to catch up on Miley Cyrus’ latest escapades. I’ll take that deal any day.

Besides, if I ever change my mind, I have a big rock outside and I still know how to use it.
That Thing
I found that thing yesterday. You know, that thing I lost two years ago. I remember being frantic about it at the time — not because I needed to have the thing, but because there was absolutely no way I could have lost it.

It couldn’t have happened, but I have to admit that these little episodes do occur. What’s more, they tend to undermine my self-image as a place-for-everything-and-everything-in-its-place, thoroughly together kind of guy. I can deal was this, but it will force me to spend a lot of time gathering evidence to contradict the growing mountain of data showing that I am not that guy. This will surely be exhausting, especially with all the time I’m already spending to prove that I am as young as I used to be. I’m beginning to suspect that such efforts may, in fact, be futile.

There had been a place for that thing two years ago, but the thing wasn’t in it when I looked. I am forced to admit that it had been used (by me, it seems, and not by my wife, who is always the prime suspect in these mysteries) then carelessly set down and forgotten. When I finally found the thing, it had been sorely abused by the elements. It had once been a nice thing; now it is shabby.

I have found a new place for the thing (it had long ago been displaced by a new version of itself), a place more suitable to its degraded condition. It will be a sheltered place, I have decided, but with plenty of the fresh air it has become accustomed to. Now I have to decide whether to make the new place clearly visible or to banish that thing from my sight.

My concern is that a prominent placement would constitute a further affront to my self-image, a constant reminder that I am not what I present myself to be. If I see it every day, it might even encourage me to abandon the hopeless task of proving the unprovable and to accept that I am flawed, weak, and unworthy of love. Such a realization would be healthy, no doubt, and signal the onset of some long overdue maturation. As with most advances toward maturity, however, this process would be painful and humiliating.

Right now it seems better for me to continue being immature. I suppose I might miss out on some deeper happiness, but I can’t imagine that it would be worth all the hassle. Life is simply too short for agonizing self-appraisal. I will conceal the thing in a less obvious place, then, and thereby avoid an excruciating confrontation with my own inadequacy.

I don’t see any harm coming from this choice. If I do forget where the new place for that thing is, I’ll just ask my wife a few pointed questions about when she last saw it and her whereabouts at the time it went missing. I am confident that she will have the maturity not to feel threatened by my accusatory tone and just tell me where it is.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee