Imagine that you have an extra brain installed, a cybernetic superbrain with access to all the compiled knowledge of mankind. Now imagine that in order to use your superbrain, you have to make loud armpit noises for at least 30 seconds. This is what it’s like to own a smartphone.
One thing that all geeks have in common, from slide-rule collectors to professional Halo players — which I guess isn’t that far of a gap — is that they live to be right.
The main way to be right used to be memorization of trivia and technical details so arcane they could bore a pack of llamas to death at 30 paces. These days, however, anything you don’t know you can learn in a few moments of screen-staring if you have decent connectivity. Fifteen years ago you might be right only two or three times in a conversation, but now you have the capacity to discharge a viscous flow of facts from your mouth at all times.
As always, etiquette lags behind technology. Someday it will be considered perfectly polite, perhaps even de rigueur, to interrupt the normal flow of conversation to determine whether New Mexico or Arizona joined the union first, or whether Andy Warhol ever made a science-fiction film. (You’re on a computer, look it up yourself.)
But these days, holding up a finger while you fish your iPhone from your pocket, then emitting a sort of grunt-hum as you selflessly track down vital trivia, is considered somewhat tactless. It’s like we’re cavemen, or maybe Victorians. Let’s go with Victorian cavemen — it’s about time someone invented a new genre.
While waiting for culture to catch up to computing, I’ve devised three workarounds. Because, seriously, I can’t just sit there and let people not know something. That’d be like hearing someone yell “Marco” and not yelling “Polo” — unthinkable unless your name is Marco.
The Bluetooth Solution
There has to be some combination of tiny Bluetooth earbud mics, Google Voice Search and text-to-speech software that would allow you to soak up some data without alerting your dining companions. Just reach into your pocket, hold down a button, and say, “Yes, I too once wondered ‘What is Lady Gaga’s real name,’ and then I found out that it was …” and here you take a long sip of water or pretend to be batting away some sort of flying insect “… Stefani Joanna Angelina Germanotta! Wait, that can’t be right.”
The Bathroom Solution
Most problems in life can be avoided by feigning some sort of affliction, such as retrograde amnesia, dissociative identity disorder or being a transgalactic thought-wave trapped in human form. In this case, you just pretend to have a humble urinary tract infection. Every time someone wonders something out loud, apologize for your insistent bladder and leave the table. Then you can come back in a minute or two, and sit down with a smug, “Oh, by the way, ketchup was derived from a Malaysian fish sauce with, interestingly enough, no tomatoes in it. I knew this before it came up.”
The Business Solution
If rich people are anything like their movie equivalents, it’s perfectly acceptable to be followed around by one to eight people whose sole purpose is to do things like get you lattes and pencil things in for Thursday, but only if you’re so completely rich you can bribe elected officials with entire islands. So: Step One, get rich. Step Two, hire a guy with an iPhone to look things up for you whenever you make a vague pointing motion in his direction. I don’t really see how this is more polite than just looking it up yourself, but apparently money both talks and types.
If all else fails, you can limit your social interactions to people with the same obsessive need to look things up. Then you can all go to dinner and poke at your phones instead of talking to each other. Best of both worlds!
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Born helpless, nude and unable to provide for himself, Lore Sjöberg eventually overcame these handicaps to become a busybody, a buttinski and a bowdlerizer.