Some people are just unsuited to their jobs, either that or I simply have to conclude that the world is becoming ever more dumbed-down and a hopelessly lost cause. A place where warnings like ‘When cooked, pie filling may be hot’ and instructions for the use of toothpicks are truly merited.
I’m in the queue at a coffee shop; one of the ‘barristas’ is clearly new to the job and being supported by a colleague – even so, there are some requests you just assume are so simple that you’d never think to consider anybody would struggle with the concept – sadly that’s not always the case. The customer in front of me asked for a white coffee, whereupon said trainee turned to her mentor with a confused look on her face and said, (I kid you not): “I don’t think we have any white coffee beans, I’ve only seen brown ones”. At that point, a little piece of my faith in human nature curled up, died, and shuffled off to that place where hope goes to live out its terminal years. Even after explanations had taken place, coffee brewed and money exchanged, the newbie still looked perplexed and, as my turn came around, she turned to her senior and in a stage whisper hissed: “It still looked pretty brown to me!”
Maybe I have higher expectations of people in general than is reasonable, or maybe it’s the changing nature of knowledge: My generation is possibly the last for whom knowledge had to be properly sought, sourced and learned. As a youngster, if there was something I wanted to learn, it was a matter of hunting down an appropriate source, and that process in itself, often took me into the realms of knowledge that may not have been immediately relevant but, by association, I picked up and absorbed. For example, if I wanted to find out the names of Jupiter’s moons, it might mean a trip to the library and thumbing through a book about the solar system, and in doing so I’d also have been exposed to chapters about Jupiter itself, the other planets, asteroids and celestial bodies, and a wealth of detail entirely peripheral to my quest but nevertheless interesting and, more importantly, building my own canon of knowledge about the universe and all things related. Today, I’d probably just Google ‘Moons of Jupiter’, and I’d be given a straight answer, no messing about, no extraneous details and no reason to explore further. The process may be efficient, but it’s by no means elegant, neither does it illuminate anything other than its immediate focal point. Cue, our young coffee shop server: She knows the beans are brown and coffee is brown, but she knows nothing about the growing, harvesting, pulping, drying, grading, roasting or blending process of those beans and has no concept of what goes into producing the beans that she tips from the bag into the grinder. Bereft of this background knowledge, her brain, being the marvel of design and evolution that it is, makes the logical leap based on the only hard data it possesses: Coffee beans are brown, therefore coffee is brown – conversely, white coffee must come from white beans, QED. It’s logically correct, but fatally flawed – a pink Nellie argument, about which I’ve written previously. And, from the enlightened observer’s point of view, it can lead to the false assumption that our young barrister-in-waiting, is a bit thick, which in itself may well be hopelessly flawed logic.
More worrisome to me is that the less rounded in terms of knowledge and understanding we become, the less able we are to discern the difference between correct and corrupt, sensible and stupid – which I reckon is quite likely to lead to the eventual downfall and extinction of humanity as we know it, (which it could be argued, under the circumstances, is a very good thing!)
I’ve always firmly been of the school that knowledge is power, and not just knowledge specific to narrow parameters either. I’m talking pub quiz knowledge here – the ability to discourse fluently in subjects that range from the propagation of carrots to the gene sequence of fruit flies, and the etymological root of the word ‘flatulence’. It’s this sort of knowledge that equips us to tackle a confusing and often mixed up world, where truth can be terribly subjective and fact frequently substituted with fiction.
One of the things I’ve noticed about people in SL – and this is purely observation, I have no data to back it up, other than my own interactions with those around me – is that those who spend significant amounts of time inworld tend to fall into one of two broad camps: Those who would quite happily believe you if you told them that white coffee came from white beans; and those who are more than capable of discoursing about the finer details of caffeine’s molecular structure and would happily knock up a home-made nuclear powered coffee roaster just for fun on a slow Sunday afternoon. The former are more likely to have weirdly out of proportion body shapes, have picks and groups that prominently feature the words ‘nude’, ‘giggles’ and ‘buttsex’, and speak in screen-filling gestures accompanied by snatches of meaningless rap samples; they’ll also pole-dance at the drop of a hat.
The latter group are most likely to look almost identical to their RL selves, or an approximation of a properly proportioned human being, have picks and groups that have an intellectual or artistic slant and hint at an in-depth understanding of obscure music genres; they’re more likely to quote Sartre or out-of-context typing faux pas dropped by friends; and, they’ll also pole-dance at the drop of a hat. It’s this second group that I tend to find myself in the company of, and they’re often also those who will tell you that SL is an escape from reality – people for whom RL may be lacking in some regards, or simply be more of a disappointment than they care to consider. Such people are, I feel, the virtual world’s gain and the real world’s loss. SL is an ideal environment for them – firstly, there is that element of SL being a refuge from reality, and secondly, SL is a medium in which the sharing of ideas, concepts and knowledge is respected and encouraged – and it makes for some fascinating conversations. Where else can you drop practically any topic into a conversation and confidently expect someone to not only be able to run with it, but also knowing that – in all likelihood – you’ll leave the conversation wiser, more knowledgeable and quite possibly completely surprised by some gem that you’d been completely ignorant about until that point?
It’s not just SL that is routinely surprising, but the people in it too, and much of that is very much down to the fact that many of them are avid collectors of facts, figures and the minutiae of life itself. Who knows?; When the final knell rings out for common sense and learning in the real world, perhaps SL will be the last bastion of real, practical knowledge that remains: A virtual seed bank of the stuff that marks us out from the animals?
And, speaking of seeds… Of course coffee beans come in white. In fact, I have lots of them and one day I shall plant them, propagate and grow my own plants and eventually harvest and roast my own beans. And, along the way, I know I’m going to learn an awful lot about lots of things, not just coffee!
You must be out of your brilliant mind
And they must be out of their brilliant minds
Everyone out of their brilliant minds
Furniture – Brilliant Mind