In the last 5 years of my education, a concept oft invoked by my teachers has been the so-called ‘black box’. A way of viewing an unknown physical construct through the lens of utmost utility. Input, Output, a short formula that threads the two. Taken less literally, the black box has analogues in many social spheres. Just go to a bar sometime and try hitting on the girl sitting next to you. It was a solemn moment for me then, because I was recently reminded of black boxes by, well, an actual black box: my laptop.
In the normal course of my day there came a most unusual moment, the rarest of rare occurrences: I happened to minimize ALL my windows. And there it was, a blank desktop screen. I had not bothered to set my wallpaper even once since I’d bought my computer, some 6 months back. Thinking back, I failed to recall what my last wallpaper on any personally owned computer had been. Thinking even harder, I realized it had been a time of the order of years since I’d even cared about what my wallpaper should be. This was not right. Memories of my childhood came rushing to the forefront, the way a stuck Enter Key would call up a million instantiations of a program.
I used to CARE about that stuff!
In the forgotten marshlands of computing past, where Netscape was your only Navigator - I used to spend hours on actual, god-damn, wallpaper websites. There were so many options - and the option itself seemed to be of perilous importance back then. It was a make or break choice of What Defines You or What You Think Is Cool or Where Do You Aspire To Be. The Wallpaper was unmatched till the coming of Facebook’s “About Me” text-box took the angst of self-definition to vertiginous heights.
The perfect car, the perfect beach, and later, the perfect actress or supermodel. These were what my friends and cohorts displayed with pride. Compliments on a good wallpaper were given and received - real-life ‘likes’.
But this was just the start, There were more slimy relics in those bogs, waiting for re-discovery. I used to care about screen-savers too. I downloaded screensavers based on the TV shows I was watching - awful-in-retrospect, fan-made slideshows of publicly available pictures, stung together with a few bells and whistles.
Those were times when icons had importance. The desktop needed to be pruned off every now and then, a bonsai-esque exercise that demanded a balance of functionality and aesthetics - Zen in the Art of Desktop Maintenance. There were the icons themselves. I used to download icon packs to replace Windows defaults. Custom sounds, custom animation, custom everything! There were eras of excess and consequent purges. A return to Default innocence followed by the next bout of corruption. I remember downloading icon editors to make my own icons that spelled out the three letter file extension in blocky 8-bit pixel art, all in the name of adding a visual aid for folder navigation.
Efficiency! A tango between me and a mule named Windows. We danced to the tune of the 6 second Start-Up jingle (which also got customized eventually). There were compulsive visits to a “troubleshooting” website called Lockergnome, for tips on wresting a few more seconds of performance time from Windows’ bloated kernel. There were late night changes to .BAT files, .INI files, and the msconfig utility (If you don’t know what that is, I pity you). And this is not even getting into the files I fooled around with trying to hack and cheat in computer games.
Why my present day laptop reminded me of a black box is exactly this: I find that I no longer care about any of those above mentioned things. A computer is now just a Chrome browser with enough open tabs for me to merit immediate AA sessions. A computer is also a media player of choice (I am sadistically loyal to Windows Media Player), a torrent program sometimes, and perhaps a word processor if I really need it. That is my computer’s face now. No more desktop, no more icons, no more separate HDD partitions for different genres of software. Its performance ranges from “good enough” to “mildly annoying” and I don’t try to change things either way. I have stopped wondering about the internal happenings that mediate my clicking and my consuming.
I’ve seen my kid cousins trying to install FIFA ‘11 into My Documents. I weep a silent tear for such children, glad for having escaped the Dark Side in my own youth. At the same time, I feel I can no longer summon up those old obsessions from within - perhaps too many new ones have taken their place.
Another thing I had learned from my education in electronics was that “artifact” was a term used in the discipline to refer to unwanted meaningless data - blurs in images, crackling in music, euphemistic noise - a side-effect that must be endured for the sake of performance. I thought the name to be artless, but also art-less, for it does no justice to the word’s meaning: “that forged with skill”. I chose to name this post after these past preoccupations, these bygone busybodies for indeed they ARE artifacts - in both senses of the word.
The closing lines of Philip Roth’s novel, “Sabbath’s Theater” were once quoted to me by a friend. I have yet to read the book, but I feel that I understand them already:
How could he leave? How could he go? Everything he hated was here.
Aoie and Natsume lie on a queen-size bed, engaged in silent conversation. They are watching each other watch each other. It is a game of catch. An expression, a mood, hinted at, which then has to be intuited and returned by the other. Not exactly a reply, but a suggestion, a direction in which to carry the game forward. It is equal parts a test-of-knowing-one-another and lets-see-where-we-can-take-this.
Their apartment is small but efficient in its comforts. A single window lets in the last of the setting sun. They eventually break eye contact to take stock of the day. ‘We’re going to need some supplies for dinner’, Aoie offers. Natsume looks at him and concurs.
‘What shall I get?’
‘We can make beef and broccoli. I want to see how it works out with a horseradish dressing.’
‘Sure. Anything else?’
‘M&Ms for dessert? I’m dying for something sweet and nutty.’
He smiles and begins to dress. She plants him a kiss by way of sustenance till he hurries back to her from the store. As he waits for the elevator, he licks his lips, partly to accept her offering, partly as an act of reclamation.
As Aoie walks the short distance to the store, he looks upward to check what the stars have to offer on this nascent night. He cannot see any of the patterns that his progenitors identified and named, eons ago. None except Orion, which is the only constellation his eyes ever manage to recognize. He imagines Orion to be the center of a roulette table, forever the familiar center, unlike the other stars, which to him seem as randomly positioned as the numbers around the disc of chance.
He goes in to the store, giving a customary nod to the cashier while giving the place a quick glance. There is a solitary woman browsing the aisles. Quite pretty, he can’t help but notice. He proceeds to get what he came for and pay the cashier.
Outside, darkness has truly set in. It seems an appropriate moment for a brief pause. He takes out a cigarette pack from his coat pocket, lights one up, and exhales into the stars. There is no wind in the air tonight, so the smoke rises straight without any fuss. A few moments of reverie pass by when he hears the ting-ting of the store door being opened. He glances to his right and sees that the woman he noticed in the shop is coming out. She sees him smoking, hesitates, but then walks over while fishing out a packet from amidst her purse. A lighter is asked for and handed over. The ignition, the inhale, the return-with-a-thank-you. The gauging and re-calibration of personal spaces. Slightly wary eye contact. The evaluation of the others’ desire for small talk.
‘Don’t the stars looks beautiful tonight?’
‘I guess. I don’t understand them very well.’
‘Hah, that’s a funny thing to say. I don’t either, but doesn’t it sound strange when said out loud?’
‘I don’t, usually. But you asked.’
‘Don’t worry. I like to think they are put there as a warning to us all. Scarecrows hung among the heavens.’
‘And what’s the warning?’
‘That we shouldn’t feel too bad about smoking?’
Aoie smiles at this.
‘Do you think you’ll ever quit?’
‘I don’t know. I’m counting on having babies to put an end to it.’
‘I hope that works out for you. I doubt it, but still.’
She considers this for a moment. Inhale-exhale.
‘We’re like them, you know. We need air to keep existing. Everything we release out to the world goes through a filter. We burn and then we are no more.’
‘Are the great ones more like pipes, then?’
‘Perhaps. But they need to scavenge for more to burn, always more. The humble cigarette is content.’
‘Humility is a questionable virtue. I would rather be remembered forever.’
‘You can be remembered for your humility.’
‘Hardly a trait worth being remembered by. Like accountancy or cleanliness. Would you want to be a janitor in the halls of eternity?’
She shrugs. ‘Whatever gets me in.’’
‘What’s your name?’
‘I’m Aoie.Tell me Miyuki, do you have a plan for immortality?’
‘One or many?’
‘One is too difficult. Many is easier.’
‘Good luck with that.’, Aoie smirks.
Miyuki turns around to face him. He begins to apologize for his flippancy when she asks -
‘I can tell you have a girlfriend or a wife. Correct?’
‘Girlfriend. How do you know?’
‘A man always subconsciously orients his torso towards a woman when he’s sexually interested in her. You didn’t. I would go so far as to say that you’ve very recently made love to her.’
‘It could just be that I find you unattractive.’
She smiles, ‘I’m aware enough about my effect on men. Lets move past that unlikely scenario.’
‘So tell me, do you think you’ll tell her about this conversation?’
Aoie is silent, not sure about what to say. He feels that it would be disloyal to Natsume to not say yes, but for some reason he is unable to articulate, he remains silent. Maybe he just wants Miyuki to go on with her point.
‘You and I, just now, we spoke genuinely. It will end when I stub out the cigarette and walk away. Neither you and I will ever talk about this to anyone else. Because nobody except you or I could have had this moment. No two people will ever have this exact moment. We may or may not think back to what the other said in our coffee breaks, pissing in alien restrooms, inhaling stale air in the metro-rail. We might even forget it entirely. But we will tell no one, because no one will understand. What was said is too important but also too insignificant to speak about. Don’t you think?’
Aoie realizes he is staring at Miyuki. He forces himself to blink. She relents and retreats into her cigarette, of which she’s taking the last few drags.
‘What is the point then? If it’s neither here nor there.’
‘You could ask the same about your life as well. Weren’t we just discussing that?’
They shake hands.
‘Have a great life, Miyuki.’
‘Oh I will. I told you, affecting many is easier than one. I shall live on. I hope you find a way as well.’
Aoie, who has long since finished his cigarette, picks up his bag of supplies and starts the walk back towards his apartment. He glances upwards at the stars again. He thinks again of his ancestors and the effort they took to make the heavens familiar. ‘I should get a star-map.’
He arrives at his apartment and lets himself in. Natsume wraps her left arm around his neck as they kiss.
Morpheus: I imagine, right now, you must be feeling a bit like Alice, tumbling down the rabbit hole?
Neo: You could say that.
Morpheus: I can see it in your eyes. You have the look of a woman who accepts what she sees because she is expecting to wake up. Tell me, Do you agree with the old expression ‘When she’s saying no, she really means yes’, Neo?
Morpheus: Why is that?
Neo: Because I don’t like the idea that I’m not in control of my life.
Morpheus: Do you want to know what the Matrix is, Neo?
[Neo swallows. She nods her head.]
Morpheus: It’s that feeling you have had all your life. That feeling that something was wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. The Matrix is everywhere. You can see it out your window, or on your television. You feel it when you walk to work, or use public transportation or even just when you’re trying to buy cigarettes. You are a slave, Neo. You, like every other woman, was born into bondage… kept inside a prison that they cannot smell, taste, or touch. A prison for their mind.
[She is offered the red pill/blue pill choice. After much assurance by Morpheus that neither is a Roofie she takes the red pill]
Scene 2: [Cut to Real World. Neo has been awoken and Morpheus takes her into a virtual construct on board their ship for a demonstration]
Morpheus: ... what is the Matrix? It is a computer generated dream world. Built to keep females under control. In order to change a woman into this.
[Morpheus holds up a Duracell® ovary]
Scene 3: [Neo is having lunch with the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar]
Mouse: Say, Neo… I assume you were sexually active in the Matrix?
Neo: Uh.. yes, why do you ask?
Mouse: Tell me, what did cum taste like to you?
Neo: Excuse me?
Mouse: Didn’t it taste like chicken?
Neo: Um…well yeah, now that you mention it.
Mouse: See that’s what I think. When the Patriarchy was creating the Matrix to enslave our minds, they would have had no clue what cum tastes like, right? Those pigs would never have tasted any guy’s or even their own cum. Because, you know, “no homo”. Which is why none of them would have had any clue what it tasted like. So they made it taste like chicken. Makes sense, right?
Scene 4: [Neo is being given essential training programs to learn how to fight The Agents, an elite core of the Patriarchy, tasked with tracking down women whose minds have been freed and re-inserting them into the Matrix]
Neo: Whoa, I know how to do a vasectomy.
[Morpheus grins at Neo]
Morpheus: Show me.
Scene 5: [Jump ahead, Neo has been enslaved by Agent Smith]
Agent Smith: I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your gender. I’ve realized that you are not actually humans. Every male is born, lives an industrious life and dies. But you women are not like that. Your singular body is designed to produce as many copies as it can before it eventually… gives up. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is?
Agent Smith: A virus.
[Neo chooses this moment to break out of her shackles and punch Smith in the face.]
Neo: Cool story, bro.
[After numerous ninja shenanigans, Neo ultimately defeats Agent Smith. She believes he is gone permanently, but it turns out that he survives, although as a result of her invasive attack, he turns into a tranny. Smith looks down at his once illustrious penis and he sees its newly acquired sidekick, a humble looking vagina. He is simultaneously disgusted and aroused. He howls in a fit of bi-curious rage.]
Scene 6: [Seeking to destroy the Matrix, Neo endeavors to meet the Architect. She is helped along the way by the Chai-maker. A neutral entity whose only concern is the perfection in serving steaming hot cups of tea. The Chai-maker manages to arrange a parlay between The Architect and Neo]
The Architect: The very first Matrix was an ideal paradise. The women were free to clean house all day, cook whatever they pleased, have as many kids as they chose… But despite our best efforts, it turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. Their minds wouldn’t accept the perfection… and they began rejecting it en masse. Entire crops were lost.
It was then that a suggestion was made from an unusual source… we called her The Oracle. It was she who first suggested that we give the women the illusion of choice.
Neo: Who is this…Oracle?
[The Architect shifts in his seat, uncomfortable and seeming embarrassed]
The Architect: She was a stripper at a club me and some of the boys used to visit back in the day. ‘The Oracle’ was the name she danced under.
Neo: Weird name for a stripper.
The Architect: Yes well, she didn’t last very long. But to get back to the original point, her suggestion worked beyond our wildest expectations. Almost every female subject accepted their new condition. The actuality of their imprisonment was lost on them. As long as self-determination and independence hovered at the edge of their horizons, always shifting backwards like wily mirages: they remained content to accept such an existence.
[Neo sips the last of her Chai. She gets up.]
Neo: I’m going to destroy you eventually. We are going to live in a world free of your outdated hetero-normative paradigm.
The Architect: Hope. The quintessential female emotion. Simultaneously the source of your greatest strength, and your greatest weakness.
This is not a war. There is no winning. We are not sad hopeless little martyrs fighting against insurmountable odds. Stop the Lord of the Rings film clip that’s running in your head.
When you strip away all the stereotype, the jokes, the mutual back-patting, the vitriol… what IS a Grammar Nazi all about?
It is a person who understands and appreciates the rules of a system and has an inherent desire to respect and uphold said rules. In particular, I am talking about a system that is going to be used by a collective, and whose effectiveness depends on each individual following the rules of the system. Under this abstraction, notice that other systems, like the rules for driving on public roads or the unspoken conventions about forming queues at counters, also satisfy the description. Why all the hoopla over grammar then? I would invoke Sayre’s Law, which says:
“In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake.”
The rules of driving represent an extreme case where it is extremely important that everybody go by the rules because extreme loss of life, limb and money are at stake. And setting aside the occasional drunk or stupid driver, these rules have a universal rate of acceptance. The example of forming queues represents an intermediate case. How amenable a crowd is to playing by the rules depends upon who is watching you, the size of the crowd, whether the person at the counter cares and the presence/absence of a policing system… the “stakes”, so to speak. Which brings us to grammar, where the stakes of playing by the rules in all except the most formal communicative scenarios, are extremely low. Here we find it easiest to go astray because no one’s “watching”, no one really “cares”, and most importantly, we can get away with breaking a lot of rules and still have the system work to reasonable amount of effectiveness.
My point here is that grammar is a system where it is ESPECIALLY easy to stop caring, flip the bird etcetera etcetera. Which is why those of us who inherently respect and follow its rules without anyone else telling us to, have a job to do. Again, I am not romanticizing anything about this position. We are NOT language’s martyrs, we are NOT language’s last guardians, we are NOT fucking-Aragorn-at-The-Black-Gate.
What we ARE is a part of one side of a binary conflict that makes language one of the most exciting cultural artifacts our species has ever created.
Imagine yin and yang. Imagine destruction and preservation. Equal and opposite forces locked in everlasting conflict. Always unresolved, yet the seed of all creation.
Our job is to fight change. Fight it ALWAYS. But there’s more to it than that. Our job is to win enough so that people remember why IT’S is not the same as ITS. Our job is to lose enough so that we GIVE exams as well as TAKE them. Our job is to win enough so that the worst mutations created by the illogical and lazy among us die a swift and merciless death. Our job is to lose enough so that the variations from the norm that enrich language make it through, survive our test of fire and become the new normal. Our job is to rant and tear our hair out over the Jersey Shore of linguistic variations. Our job is to rant and tear our hair out over the Breaking Bad of linguistic variations.
Do you understand the position we are in? Again, There is no WINNING. Our job is merely to resist. Forever resist. That is our purpose. We do it because nobody else has the will to do it. If some of us like to take a narcissistic pleasure doing what we do, consider it the SOLE reward of a tiring, depressing and life-long vocation. Our cause is NOT inherently right. We are NOT the “good guys”. Our nature has compelled us to fulfill this role and we are doing it. That’s all. Now grow up.
The most over-used word in Indian science/engineering settings, right? Don’t worry, I’m not gonna go on a tirade against it; I’m quite fine with the word. What I want to document are some of the more salient features of this word’s usage.
Some background for those unfamiliar with the word and its etymology. It is safe to assume that it is a contraction of the word ‘fundamental’. Its plural form is usually “funde” or sometimes the more flippant ‘fundae’ (pronounced like ‘sundae’) or geeky ‘fundaez’.
While the word Funda is closely linked to ‘knowledge’ in meaning, it has an additional subtext that, depending on the context or requirement, may be viewed as good or bad. What I’m talking about is the fact that Funda is not merely knowledge, it is commoditized knowledge: Key information that been fished out of a vast sea of interrelated theory, equations and commentary. It is knowledge presented in its most efficient and usable form; put into a box and neatly tied with a bow. When we are trying to imbibe fundae before an exam, we are not seeking to comprehend the rich tapestry of work that has been built upon by decades or centuries worth of research and study; No, we want to know the exact equations that will come in handy and what the variables in the equations signify. After we know that, we’re good to go. This sort of reductionist learning technique is undeniably useful the night before a test when the requirement is to learn how to solve a set of problems whose dimensions will be finite in nature (and what’s more, the dimensions can be quite easily estimated). The trouble I have here is that the Funda-oriented pedagogy that we use leaves no room for nuance, exceptions and deeper intuition. Instead of learning to be key-makers, we obtain for ourselves a bunch of skeleton keys, hoping that they’ll open every door. Which of course, they don’t always do. Again, depending on what you want out of your courses, this is all perfectly fine but it can be a dangerous attitude for “real” learning. And those who study to achieve the latter would do well to cut down on their usage of the word.
The word of course gets utilized in a lot of non-academic settings as well. We get pissed off when a person “keeps giving funda all the time”, don’t we? Funda here serves as a catch-all term for lengthy sermons by self-proclaimed experts, double-speak of all kinds, pretty much anything the listener judges to be hollow, self-serving or irrelevant. Personally, I find it quite encouraging that we, as a professional community, have developed such a potent and universally understood label for dis-ingenuity and (from personal experience) it seems all of us like to use it with aplomb. The funny part is that in this mode, the word has the literal opposite meaning compared to the previous (more academic) sense. It thus qualifies to join ‘weather’, ‘sanction’ and ‘off’ in the league of words called auto-antonyms.
Do comment if you have further insights/opinions/anecdotes to share!
EDIT: Thanks to Ms. Karishma Krishnan for pointing out an unfortunate grammatical oversight.
RE-EDIT: Thanks to said reader for correcting me on multiple grammatical oversights. Sigh.
Being an anorexic amputee: Not only do you have to obsess about your weight all day, you have obsess about whether you’re obsessing the right amount. I mean, say you’ve lost a leg or two. Each time you check your weight, you’d have to correct for your missing appendages. You would need to estimate how much your legs weighed separately, and add that on. And as you lose weight, you’d have to try and estimate how much your ex-limbs would have lost, which would involve tedious calculations involving bone densities, muscle mass and so on and so forth. BMI charts and all those things would be horribly miscalibrated for your purposes and you’d have re-do all of that over again. And this is not even taking into account how you would get yourself on and off the weighing scale twenty times a day. Life would get very, very sad indeed.
I hate the colon p emoticon. I didn’t always hate it. I used it for a long time. Even regularly. But it was always with the with the sort of uneasiness I get when I’m copying homework from somebody. It doesn’t feel wrong as much as it feels like a cop-out, a compromise with the reality of your own imperfections.
As my experience with “chat” or “text” as a medium of communication has grown, I have become only more convinced that usage of the “colon p” (I do not intend to actually type it out) needs to be drastically curbed, if not removed entirely.
Consider, what do we use it for? Primarily, it is used to denote jocularity. It intends to signal that whatever is being said should be taken in a light(er) vein. But the uses to which this gets put can be both awe-inspiring  at certain times and soul-crushing at others. It is the favored crutch of “friend-zoned” bros everywhere. It can change earnest expressions of love, admiration, flirtatiousness etc. into harmless ribbing by a pseudo-self-consciously “platonic” friend. The moment a remark is deemed by the bro (or the bro-fliction ) to be too “out of line”, he deploys that emoticon to make it all okay again. “I was kidding, of course!”, he says. Please.
While this alone may be okay and actually defended as a useful tool to get yourself out of sticky situations, the long term consequences of such usage bother me. What it devolves down to is effectively a constant hedging of bets. It becomes to get attached to every thought, opinion and emotion. A constant disclaimer just in case the other person takes what you mean too seriously, even if you do. The safety wheels stay on and on, and we forget how we ever kept our balance without them. Allow me to posit that this usage of the “colon p” emoticon is just one member in a class of institutions, whose other members include things like life insurance (insurance of all sorts, really), government jobs, tenureships, marriage and so on, that society sets up to dampen and tame inherently unpredictable aspects of life. All these things are appealing for the same reason: they ensure that life doesn’t sway “too much” from your comfort zone. Which is not a bad thing necessarily, except too much stability is its own death.
The other kind of usage I have noticed is of the filler/nothing-better-to-say variety. When you don’t have an opinion, or the prospect of actually taking the effort to understand the other person is too dreadful to undertake, the “colon p” acts as a crutch again, allowing you a convenient non-response to give to any conversational situation that you don’t want to engage in. Again, not always a bad thing, there are always days when we need things like that. But given the particularly subtle and descriptive power of text compared to other media (who hasn’t sorted out a problem with a colleague, friend or lover over email, because no other medium seemed right?), it seems terrible that the poorer cousin of email has become overrun by ways to get out of meaningful conversation rather than into it.
In short, the world would be better if we just said ‘Haha’ and/or an exclamation mark when we’re joking around and discard this stupid sledgehammer of an emoticon. Seriously, the exclamation mark is terribly underrated; the Paul Giamatti of punctuation.
Other thoughts on the medium that come to mind from time to time:
1) Over-usage of smileys: It comes down to choice, but I feel that the more you use it, the less meaningful each individual instance becomes. If you smile all the time, doesn’t it just mean that you’re never happy?
2) The ‘Hmm’: I’m actually okay with this one. Since it is an onomatopoeiac representation of a sound people ACTUALLY make. (who the hell puts out his tongue when they’re making a joke). It is unfortunately construed as boredom, which I think is actually because of the fact that the letter ‘H’ is the most boring letter in the alphabet. I’ve thought about why it feels that way, and one possible physical explanation is that the enunciation of the ‘H’ sound necessarily requires an expulsion of air, which relates it (undeservedly) to the ‘sigh’ sound. If you replace it with a ‘mm’ or a ‘mmm’, the expression instantly seems more attentive, while still fulfilling the same basic purpose.
3) “Wassup?”: Also ported over from real life, I’m the most conflicted about this one. Towards the end of the Lord of the Rings, a minor character casually chides Samwise Gamgee for not taking sufficient care of Frodo, after a minor untoward incident. Samwise, reflecting on his hellish journey to Mordor and constant guardianship over his Master, decides that this was a comment that needed a week long response or none at all. That is exactly how I feel whenever somebody asks me this question. Not that my life is all that exciting on an absolute scale, but it has a myriad of details that may be tiny but are intensely vivid to ME, and affect ME, and that I care about. What the question demands is the tedious task of curating those details, sorting them by relevance (not really to me, but to the other party, which is the real sad part since it requires a measure of self-censorship as well as guesswork as to what the other finds interesting), and finally presenting them in a hopefully-not-too-boring-way. I understand that a conversation needs to start from somewhere, but I always end up wishing that questions could be more to-the-point, more meaningful. Of course you can always respond with the “usual stuff”, but as they say in statistics, you can always subtract out the mean from a random variable, so there isn’t much point in talking about it.
 I was about to use the word ‘awesome’, but decided the meaning would be lost since the word has unfortunately taken a universally positive connotation.
 Bro-flictionn.(pl. -s): The woman intensely desired by the bro, but who has chosen to friend-zone him.
 A myriad, precisely speaking, refers to the exact number 10,000. Depending on the kind of week I’m having, the actual number might be less or more.
At some point during my Facebook existence I decided to “like” Adriana Lima. At the time, I probably intended it to be a signifier of sorts. An indication of what I did with some of my waking hours; an in-joke that those sufficiently in the know would get and appreciate. More specifically, I intended to world to know that though I loved ogling at pictures of attractive women as much as any other straight guy, I also liked to look up the names of the girls in all those photo-shoots; that I read about their childhood as well as their current boyfriend; their charity work as well as their favorite color. I realize it is extremely unlikely that anyone could intuit all this from a simple “like”, but no harm in trying, right?
What I did not expect, however is the feelings that this Facebook page’s updates would evoke inside me with it’s semi-regular updates on said supermodel’s life. I use the word “update” loosely, because all of them were in fact threadbare (excuse the pun) excuses to post photographs of said supermodel in various states of undress.
Now let me begin with the page itself. Its “About” section is empty save for a link to her Twitter feed. If you start to hope that great expository descriptors await you there, you’ll be sorely disappointed; her self-description over there is merely a link back to her Facebook page. The usual parts of speech (adjectives, adverbs, nouns etc.) required for a (however crude) getting-to-know-me-statement seem to have been done away with, replaced with a proto-Kekulean loop of social media hyperlinks. If one added Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Tumblr, said supermodel could have herself a nice benzene ring. The sad part being that none of this is very organic.
Moving on from this disappointment, I begin to scan the rest of her page. I recognize her cover picture as a flipped version of an old GQ photospread (of course).
As I scroll below and begin to peruse the posts, the photographs dominate the visual field. This makes the act of reading the posts themselves a bit like trying to concentrate in the negative space between the panes of the Windows logo.
Most of the tacked on sentences are banal, pithy statements, borderline tautologies, almost criminal in their naivete. There is even one curious instance of rudimentary word play (the well known: Pink bra + “Pinking of you…” double whammy).
Said supermodel occasionally asks her “audience” questions that seem designed to engage them and invoke a feeling of connection with the object of their desires. Which brings me to the people who actually bother to post these comments. As I scan them, I begin to identify various genres of responses. There are your usual declarations of undying love for said supermodel, you then have your basic “hot body” remarks. Also to be found, inexplicably, are a not-insignificant minority of women who compliment her on her figure and good looks. Clicking through to one such commenter’s profile, I find that she has chosen a bikini clad Adriana as her cover picture. NOTHING that I know about women, is of any use in trying to understand this choice. Getting back to the topic, one can also find a lot of people using the forum to make grand (yet not grandiose) statements about the nature of beauty, art and human expression. The reason I call them grand but not grandiose is that grandiosity implies pretentiousness, which in turn implies aspiration beyond one’s capabilities. These sentences seem to not aspire to the status of Universal Truths; as if they have already won a tiny fiefdom in the minds of these individual interlocutors and they prefer not to take the trouble to fight for further neural real-estate. As a consequence of course, nothing about them manages to impress, save the utter sincerity with which they have been typed. Last of the trends, and the one I find saddest are those who try to begin actual conversation with the supermodel, with innocuous “Hi…“‘s and “how r u?“‘s. The thought that some of these people might actually expect responses brings me close to tears if I think about it for more than a couple of minutes. Dear Vijay from Kottayam, Kerala: while tagging said supermodel in your comment demonstrates a deft use of the tools Zuckerberg gives us all, I will still include you in my prayers from now on. Be well.
There’s not much more to do so I leave this page; as usual, more confused than before. Why does said supermodel project such a grossly over-sexualized image of herself on Facebook, when she could have (like many others choose to do) used it to de-objectify herself in the eyes of these people; portrayed the more regular aspects of her life: her friendships, her pets or even just her choice of morning coffee? She almost surely does not run the page personally, so what goes through the mind of the guy (probably) whose job it is to post those images at regularly planned intervals? Is he happy in his job? Does he have a wife or a girlfriend? What are these people interacting with this online persona for? Do they persist over weeks or months? Are their lives happy and fulfilling and is all this activity just an ephemeral moment in their daily routine? If so, what neuro-chemical trigger compels them to do it? Or are there some for whom for each comment or update assumes the momentousness of a smile from a cute girl at the bus stop or perhaps even a first date? And lastly, given the length of this post, am I one of them?