So which is it? Are we as a species becoming stupider because the Web has shortened our attention spans to only what can fit on a screen — and even that “info-snack” is getting abbreviated to “LOLs,” “BRBs,” and “WTFs?” Or is it the other way around: Are we, in some group-mind way, getting smarter because we can at a whim Wiki up Thomas Paine’s graduation photo and because we can carry around whole smarty-pants libraries on PDAs or Kindles™? I’ve read both arguments lately on the Web — but I don’t know the answer: the articles were too long to finish reading, so I looked at I Can Has Cheezburger? instead.
Fortunately for the continuing validity of the second part of our species’ name, other sources of wisdom besides Wikipedia are still available. Most notably, here in Elmhurst, IL, there’s the big sign outside of Verlare Cleaners:
It updates weekly, which is just enough time to chew on the last aphorism and digest it, but not so long an interval that there’s any danger of our little community’s regressing to savagery. I wish I had a better example to show than this photo I snapped yesterday. The proverb on display is atypical in that it is simply flat-out wrong. It more usually tends towards the Delphic. We get things like, “The ladder of success is not made of glass.” Sayings which sort of throw a monkey wrench into your mental workings because for half a second you almost buy it.
It has become a kind of parlor game with Lizzie, Mary and me to try to out-Verlare Verlare by making up proverbs which come as close as possible to making sense without actually crossing the line. It’s not so easy as it sounds; the danger of actually saying something meaningful is never far away.
You doubt? Try it yourself. Here are some examples to get you started:
- It only takes five letters to write “SMILE.”
- Your future is already someone’s yesterday.
- To dress for success, walk a mile in its shoes.
- A friend is just an enemy you haven’t met yet.
- The ladder of success has many rungs, but only two vertical pieces.
- When you point the finger of blame, keep your hand in your pocket.