Spoke with a friend regarding the success of a new book he has written about his childhood. It was far away and long ago, but he does have a good memory and clear writing style. The people who lived there then and still do now are buying the book and, presumably, enjoying it.
One reader, however, had to chime in with the fact that the writer was not known to him – perhaps the most superfluous comment of the year. There are nine billion people on the planet who are not known to me, and I am satisfied with it. But the phrase is no more than a conventionality to garner attention – and it leads me to speculate upon the other phrases of this sort that we encounter:
- ” At this point in time “. If you’re giving a history lesson and are tracing the Peninsular wars month-by-month, the expression is excusable. If you’re merely trying to make yourself sound big instead of saying ” Now”, it is not.
- ” My good lady wife “. As opposed to your other one who is bad, or a trollop, or merely a scrap of meat on the plate? Does she describe you in similar terms, and you just haven’t been there to cringe at the time?
- ” I’m putting you on notice “. The speech of the headmaster when he cannot control the class. The vague threat made vaguer by the grammatical pointlessness of it. Throw a rock at the pompous ass.
- ” I hear what you are saying. “. As opposed to tasting it? Or smelling it? As this phrase is invariably followed by ” But…”, perhaps it is the smell that features large…
- ” It is what it is “. Oh thank God for that. I have been in terror that either it is what it isn’t or it isn’t what it is. Existentialism was never this hard and we wore raincoats for that.
My thanks to another weblog writer – Tony – for sensitizing me to baloney. But bad news, Tony. Here in Australia it is sometimes spelled ” Polony “. Same gritty luncheon meat but cruder packaging.
” Sorry to hear about your problem. But keep at it – if you try to have a thought every day – even a little one – eventually thinking comes easier.
But thank you for the complement in the latter part of your speech. You might leave a little pause between the first sentence and the second, so people understand that there is a full stop there… ”
Well, there you go. A ready-made Uncle Dick squelch for the person at a party who wants to be offended and take over your conversation upon that basis. You could cede it to them by apologising for whatever it was you said – but you would have a difficult time getting it back. This way you leave them wondering what the holes are on both sides of their mental cockpit and what that whizzing noise was. It was a 40mm Bofors squelch.
There are lots of what the Readers Digest used to call Perfect Squelches to be had – and lots of times when they are needed – but unfortunately we often miss the cue and fail to fire. Or we are a little slow in the fusing, and the target flies away. A squelch delivered too late bounces off the ground and can detonate in your face.
The best thing to do is practise – and nowadays we are given this opportunity nearly every day when the Indian call centre scammers ring up to try to take control of our computers. There is a brief pause after you lift the telephone receiver and then often a hiss or the sound of a background camel market as the scammer reels out their spiel – you can have up to ten seconds to collect your wits, fuse a squelch, slam it into the breech, and reach for the trigger.
Use these scammers as practise targets. Do not be rude or profane – don’t even be vulgar. Be nice. Be logical. Be honest. Draw a bead on them and tell them that you are Billy The Old Kid and that you rob railway trains as a pension. Tell them that are looking for a Russian bride but all the agencies will offer is Vladimir Putin in a dress. Tell them that you are the ghost of John Diefenbaker looking for butter tarts. Do it in a serious voice.
Note: When an Indian scammer blows up the results can be spectacular. They are only human, after all, and it must be hot and sticky there in the market. They are often only one call away from running amok.
The no-Facebook-feed experiment has been completed. One month of not scrolling down the newsfeed – the only contact being Messenger all through August. Now we’re on the 1st of September and here is what I’ve discovered:
- I did not collapse weeping or shivering at any point of the month. The hold that Facebook had on me was not such as to constitute a classical physical addiction. There was no cold turkey – not even a lukewarm chicken.
- I was as informed about the general local, state, and federal matters as I would have been had I been reading the feed. Radio and magazines filled the void in the month as far as immediate news is concerned. I did not need to read about the Edict Of Nantes on any medium, so I did not need it on the net.
- I did miss out on news of a more personal nature – people nowadays take to the feed to alert their immediate social group and I very nearly missed out on a very important occasion. Luckily I was alerted and the occasion met…but complete divorce from social sites might be awkward. At the very least one would have to take an old-fashioned newspaper and read it carefully for the hatches, matches, and dispatches.
- The amount of time that no-feed freed up for other activities was amazing. This is as much a condemnation of myself before as it was of the internet mechanism. After all, I was the one sitting there wasting time – not the makers of Facebook. They were cramming every minute of every hour with what they hoped would prove productive advertising.
- Other activities saw a great deal accomplished – models built, tools cleaned, fences mended, essays written, photos taken. The house looked tidier and was so earlier and earlier in the day.
- Visits were made to friends physically, rather than electronically. This cost money, petrol, and time, and was overwhelmingly rewarded with personal happiness.
- Visitations from people who annoy me were reduced to a bare minimum. I still got Indian scam calls, of course, as these were inevitable. I got a few pamphlets and shill sheets in the post. And there was always the radio advertisement for a car yard and a dental implant surgery that clog up the old-time radio. But I was not bombarded by politics, propaganda, folly, or fecundity all month. A most refreshing time.
- I got to sleep at a decent hour. Or as decent an hour as the bastard cat would permit. I want a cat-proof fence down the middle of the bed.
So…what to do? Now I am free to re-commence my Facebook activity – or curtail it – or close it down entirely. I know the benefits and perils of each course. I think the best decision for me is:
- Keep the line open. I use the Messenger function and several activities I quite enjoy are carried by Facebook in ancillary groups. No sense cutting my nose off to spite someone else’s face…
- Open the feed for a limited period of time. And that is an exact use of the language – I shall dedicate a 45-minute period to Facebook during each day. I’ll use that FB-Time to read messages, send out replies, post column links, and read the general feed. But the last-named activity will be kept for the last, after all the others are done. If the earth-shattering news of your lunch is not within the 45 minute limit, I shall never know of it. This last month has shown me that I will never grieve for it.
- I shall place a number of individuals upon a private notice list. If they break forth into Facebook annoyance again, I shall simply take no further notice of them. They’ll not suffer indignity through this, and neither shall I.
Really, it was so simple – yet it took a month for me to see myself and how foolish I had become with the social media site. Now I can go back to it with pleasure and reserve my folly for other fields.
I have been accused of cynicism and irony.
The persons who said this were probably hoping I’d offer them a bribe to change their minds. I would be happy to send them a bouquet of roses and a box of chocolates for their opinion – It has opened my eyes to the value of mistrust and suspicion.
Of course there are others who see this philosophy as detrimental – who cry that all men are brothers and all women are sisters. Take a look at a family that is composed of brothers and sisters and count the bruises, scars, and other souvenirs. You don’t get that as an only child. if you want to be savage you have to go away from the cozy hearth and the bosom of the family. Strangers are your only legitimate targets and the world only has 9 billion of them left.
As far as the irony, I do think I may have been a little indiscrete with that. I have laughed where I should have cried and pointed out follies that others wished to be hidden. It has made me enemies, though not the sort of quality fiends that I really want. Mostly just people who snarl at me in passing. Some, of course, adopt the sensible course of putting on stern disapproving looks or blank RBF looks. There is little one can say to them, though there is a great deal that can be written about them. I tend to do this on the doors of lavatory stalls. With pictures.
Cynicism has saved me a great deal of money in the past, and as internet promotions ramp up, I’m looking to it as a real shield. Of course I disbelieve anything that comes over the telephone these days, particularly if it is spoken in a Peter Sellers accent…but I am also binning any number of contacts that urge me to do things on email or Facebook. When you close down the latter the air clears remarkably.
I mean, don’t you freeze up at the keyboard? Haven’t you run out of topics? How can you think of things to say?
Well, think about what you’ve just asked. What you’ve written has become the topic of this weblog post. Thank you for asking – you’ve done me good…
Keep your ears and eyes open every day and there are far more things to write about than you have fingers for the keyboard. People are the most prolific source of interest we can think of – after all most of the people who read this column are human…and they can see themselves in the pictures and hear themselves in the language. You have only to return one image or one word to them that they recognise as their own and they will read every other syllable you write.
They might read from self interest, or self consciousness. They might read with greed or horror. They might read to see if you have mentioned the time they were left on the doorstep by the police drunk and dressed in a dirndl…but they read.
Write about what you’ve heard or seen in the day, or the week. Lie to them unashamedly, tell them the unvarnished truth, or anything in between. Just use your own words and they will read.
Oh, I’m not going to stop drinking. Good Lord, don’t jump to ridiculous conclusions…No need for crazy talk.
I’m going to conduct the experiment on Facebook during July of not removing anything. No hiding ads or shares that people put up. No taking down rants and political propaganda. No snoozing or unfollowing people. No unfriending. No untoward reactions to anything.*
It will be a strain. I will be forced to see, but pass by, the worst of the drivel that appears on screen. I will not post corrections of typos or humorous suggestions. I will not try to push people over the edge of madness. The people I know teeter there much without any help from me.
I shall practice Will Roger’s advice about not passing up a chance to shut up – and I will see if I feel better or worse at the end of the month. I will either have been destroyed by the flood of folly or find myself completely unaffected by it. I can’t say right now which prospect is most appealing.
* I may have filed one person away for 30 days, but that is to prevent homicide.
No. I point at it and yell ” Bumpah ! ” when I finish writing a knockout column.
Then I put it in the draft section and let it sit for at least a couple of days before I re-read it. If it is still ” Bumpah! ” I can post it. The two days lets me see the typos, and introduces a certain degree of calm into the thing. It also means that sometimes the exclamation is changed to”
” Trasho! ”
Thanks to Mr. W. Rogers, I am taking more of the opportunities to shut up that are presented to me. I hope silence will smooth relations with people in the future and serve as an elegant setting to the occasional flash of diamond-like wit.
Would that world leaders who resort to the mobile phone keypad whenever stressed to send out tweets were as cautious. It might prevent a great deal of angst in the rest of us.