Introducing Vark.com: Why think when you can get a friend to do it for you?

My high school buddy – now a somewhat successful writer, then a surly malnourished misfit, as were we all – tells me he’s off tonight to some downtown hotel for an annual charity event called the Booklovers’ Ball. I could only respond with some high-school badinage on the level of, “You freakin’ aren’t!” But he freakin’ is, and took time to explain the problem this poses, since it’s a formal occasion and it seems he is no longer able to squeeze into his cummerbund, and evidently you don’t just show up at the Booklovers’ Ball wearing flannel over your Johnny Rotten T-shirt.

He tells me he is dreading the event for non-sartorial reasons, as well. At a previous shindig, he was seated next to the well-known local scribbler, Mr. _______-________, winner of the coveted Big Ass Prize in Canadian Letters (named to memorialize a distinguished Montreal poet.) I’m familiar with the acclaimed fellow’s work, having received a wrapped copy as a Christmas present from someone who apparently doesn’t know me very well. It’s a fact that, owing to an unusual eye-muscle reflex, I’ll read almost anything — cereal boxes, fine print on parking tickets, even, if stuck in the waiting room of the oil-change place, the Toronto Star — but, sakes alive, this book was drivel. My friend didn’t much care for the award-winner as a soiree companion, either, and describes him unflatteringly, using a raft of inventive writerly terms, two of which rise to the level of poetry: yutz, rhyming precisely with putz.

What ho, booklover!

I mention all this because there are fewer and fewer book readers out there – check it out here, if you don’t believe me – and those who stick with the practice are getting kind of defensive about it, which could explain the need to dress up in toff attire and declare one’s self as no mere reader, but a Booklover, and capitalized at that. Might as well go the whole hog. The thinking must be that books are on their way to extinction, and so are tuxedo-rental places. Under those circumstances, why not combine the two disappearing phenomena during one celebratory evening spent locked up with bores in a musty banquet hall?

Put it that way, and I’d rather be pretend-bowling on the Nintendo Wii. Or Twittering. Or Aardvarking, which is well beyond Twittering, and is the latest thing you can do on your computer in order to avoid having to make use of any of your brain cells.

Here is how Aardvark works: Suppose you need some information. We’ll assume, based on trends, that you’re way too lazy to read a book. You could always spend a few seconds seeking enlightenment through a computer search, but, face it, probably you’re no more self-reliant than you are ambitious, or knowledge-laden.

If you resemble this profile, you might just be ready for Aardvark. This latest wrinkle in social networking is designed to relieve you of the burden of having to know anything, by transferring the responsibility for correcting your woeful state of ignorance — to your friends.

At root, this offers some appeal. I was all set to try it out. I had my sample question formed and ready to roll: “What is the one beer to have, when you’re having more than one?” (Only possible answer: Schaefer is the one beer to have, when you’re having more than one.)

And then I realized that the Aardvark planned to send this foolishness out to everyone on my Facebook page. This concerned me. First of all, my Facebook page is a prank, just a no-class put-on, done under a pseudonym. All my Facebook friends, and there are scads of them, are unknown to me. They are strangers assembled by chance solely for unspecified experimental purposes.

Dale’s dictum: Don’t bother trying to win friends or influence people. That was it, right?

But the main thing is, I really don’t care what any of my actual or simulated friends have to say about most subjects — and I think I’ve demonstrated that to everyone’s satisfaction, time and again, over a sustained period. In doing so, I’ve possibly misunderstood Mr. Dale Carnegie’s established principles of abusing friends and antagonizing people, but all that’s in the category of water-under-bridge.

My fear is that if I turn now to my social network – or, even more perilously, to my mischievous alter-ego’s social network – and ask for a helping hand, they will respond as I would to their requests, with dangerous instructions intended to mess them up badly. The best way to clean a clogged garbage-disposal unit? Try jamming your hand in it, and then get someone to turn it on. Surgery or radiation? Neither; just follow the Suzanne Somers diet. Best place for fine dining in Montreal? Dic-Ann’s is pretty good.

It’s possible that Aardvark, whoever or whatever Aardvark is, may not have foreseen such regrettable tendencies in some users to mislead and deceive. Be that as it may, it is not as if anyone’s assistance is required to answer the one question I’m really dying to ask. And that is: Is it a good idea to pester those in your circle with pointless and unnecessary questions?

You needn’t rush to answer that.

Certainly. Surely, my fine Aardvarkers, it is always a good idea.

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