I have this pointless habit of keeping a running to-do list. I guess I must subconsciously enjoy the feeling of never measuring up, because in addition to achievable entries like “buy stamps,” this list also contains things I will never do, things like “organize boxes of loose photos into nice albums” and “make a spreadsheet to track spending.” These are things that annoy me enough be entries on my to-do list but not enough to actually do them. Therefore they are perpetually rolling over onto subsequent to-do lists. I never do them, but I’m constantly reminded that they need doing (masochistic much?).
The point of this all is for you to understand that when I look at my to-do list, I look with a grain of salt (can you look with a grain of salt? Am I mixing my metaphors? More on this later). The best part about revisitng to-do lists is when you can’t figure out what certain entries mean. You probably scrawled them in a hurry, sure that they were so important, so front-of-mind, that your weird shorthand would be enough to trigger your memory. For example, “Internet” obviously means “book the rental car for the Rochester trip but check a few competing websites first.” Duh.
The other day I had one of these moments of confusion. The item in question was “clean desktop.” I’d recently bought a new computer, and some of the items on my to-do list were related to this, I knew. I was supposed to set up bookmarks in my web browser and so on. So I decided that this is what “clean desktop” must refer to. But at the same time, was I on crack because there was nothing on my desktop to clean. Because the computer was new, its desktop had not yet accumulated enough pictures of Lily’s celebrity pretend-boyfriends to require cleaning.
I was sitting at my desk thinking about this and I sighed, resting my chin in my hands. I suddenly realized that my problem was that computers have introduced so many metaphors into our lives so utterly effectively that we have pretty much lost any sense of the actual things these metaphors refer to.
Clean desktop meant just that. Clean desktop. Duh. I had repotted some plants nearby and the top of my desk was dirty. It needed to be cleaned—ironically because I didn’t want my fancy new computer, sitting on my desk, to get dirty.
I remembered once laughing at the metaphors adopted by the computer-universe when I was having technical problems and was suddenly faced with the following error message:
Your system has become vulnerable. Please install the patch for vulnerability.
Not having a vulnearbilty patch on hand, I panicked and shut everything off. Then I started to fantasize: what if there were patches for emotional states like vulnerability, just like they have nicotine patches and those freaky birth-control patches?
She’s crying at her work station again! Get the vulnerability patch, ASAP!
I don’t know, it seems funny, but then I started to think about how it’s only funny if you’re smart enough to have a handle on the fact that we are speaking metaphorically when we’re in the computer-verse. I came pretty close to losing this sense myself, with my confusing “clean desktop” directive.
I’m not sure that computers, with their recycling bins and hourglasses and desktops have really done us any favours, metaphorically speaking.