We don’t know how to do things
A little while back, I was re-hanging a shelf in the bedroom that I had tried to attach with anchors and screws. A few months after the initial hanging, Gus the cat had jumped onto the shelf, and that extra 20 pounds of fluff had made the entire thing come crashing down in a melee of book thuds and cat hisses. Now, three weeks after that fall, I was facing the shelf-hanging monster again.
Special People don’t like doing things that everyone is supposed to be able to do. There’s a large window of opportunity to fail here and we have no excuse when we do. It’s not as if we’re trying to bring the Turkish government back to the Mid-East Peace Process. The only thing SPs may dread more than doing a task everyone is supposed to be able to do, though, is redoing a task that everyone is supposed to be able to do because we botched it the first time. In this case, everything seemed so nice and settled. We had passed through the gauntlet and somehow, by skill, luck or both, managed to pass the job off as complete. Now a bomb has gone off and there’s another chance for us to fail and be exposed as the frauds we are. Should we fail, we enter not only the ranks of the Unspecial, but, there’s really no other way to put it, the Below Average.
For the second hanging, I was using the screws with the wings on them that go in, expand and then catch on the other side of the wall. In order to get the wings in, I had drilled and carved a giant hole in the wall. Now, having threaded the screw through the first shelf-holder and thrust its winged end through the wall, I was turning on it, trying to get it to tighten. But nothing was happening. The screw wasn’t moving forward, it was just spinning, spinning, spinning. I turned, staring at the spinning screw, and slowly, familiarly, I felt the onset of pure, undiluted terror. This is the Special Person’s Panic.
Speical Person’s Panic tells us we’re not only failing at this task, but that we are doomed to consistently fail at common tasks for the rest of our lives. And if shelf-hanging induces the onset of SPP, what about the more abstract tasks of the 21st Century? How are we ever going to master the daily-changing technology leaping out at us off the shelves in the Verizon store? While it’s difficult enough to understand the winged-screw mechanism, what about digital streams of information floating through the air and syncing into our devices? What does digital information even look like when it travels? The only thing I can picture here is the scent trail that moves through the air and literally picks up Scooby-Doo by his nose.
When our voicemail messages vanish, or our songs won’t transfer, or our blackberry cracks, we feel the Panic. If our new stereo isn’t talking to our TV, we have no idea why not. Do we call Samsung? Do they have an American help desk, and can we even get to it if they do? How many hours of our lives will this operation cost us? We don’t understand how things work, so we don’t even know how to think about fixing them. [Bill Gates, if you’re reading this entry–and I’m glad you are–ignore this section]. In a sense, we are all Keyrock, Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer. We don’t understand your modern world, how these little people inside of our phones make the noises come out, and what to do if they stop talking! It’s the same panic I imagine someone must have felt when he first looked up at lightning and created Zeus…at least, even if it was still terrifying, you knew how it worked.
Is our world going to get simpler again? There are some Rapture predictors who think it will, on May 21st, 2012, or if not then, a future date to be determined. But I’m willing to say it won’t. What’s more, we of Generation Special won’t get any more facile with new technology unless we get younger, which is highly unlikely. Yesterday, David Bowie’s Changes came up on my i-pod (no idea how it works, by the way). The line that stuck with me was “Oooh, look out, you rock and rollers…pretty soon now, you’re gonna get older.” The children today who can text faster than we can think are infinitely better equipped to handle new tech products, though in twenty years they themselves will be dinosaurs compared to their children. Remember when we laughed at the Seniors using Computers video? That’s us! That’s already us—we just aren’t on youtube yet–so careful ye who laugh! We can, however, still laugh at these old people rapping.
Yet all is not lost. Remember that our path at Nothing Special always points toward accepting our own mediocrity. Yes, we memorized all of the state capitals when we were in third grade, but today that means absolutely diddly-squat. Once we accept how little we know, it helps us understand how little everyone else knows. Even Bob Vila probably has moments of panic when putting up a shelf—and think of the pressure on him! What if it falls? Where’s his excuse? Everyone faces accomplishment doubt—we Special People just tend to hold onto it and build a religion out of it. Today let’s try to be brave as we approach our tasks. Let’s note that we’re terrible, that we’ll likely fail, that we might have to do outside research, that we still might not have all the tools, that two billion people could likely do it better, let’s note that, put it in a box, and place it on the virtual shelf, to sit with the same thoughts of our Special People brethren around the world. Then let’s get back to doing what we’re doing.
I stopped spinning the screw driver. I tried to picture what was happening inside the wall, but I couldn’t get it. More panic. A deep breath. I called the Super (1st lifeline). I told him my situation. He listened and got what I was saying. “Yeah, you have to pull out the mount toward you at the same time that you’re screwing the screw into the wall.” I didn’t totally get it. I sensed that the screw needed some friction in order to go in, and that meant if I pulled, and the wings locked against the inside wall, the screw might start to tighten. I thanked the Super, took a deep breath, pulled the shelf-support toward me, and started to turn.