Wednesday, September 3, 2008

I Am Wikipedia

This story was in the pipeline anyway, but the passing of Jerry Reed brought it to the top of the list.

This, like many of my stories, is both a True Story From One Of My Jobs and quite possibly Another Reason Why People Don't Talk To Me. As regular readers may have surmised, I don't much leave the house through the week except to go to work, and there's no shortage of reasons to avoid talking to me. In fact, doing so is highly recommended, not least by me.

This tale takes us back to my days working beside Alex in the IT department of a large office. The majority of our staff did not have Internet access on their desktop computers. Officially, for security reasons, the IT staff didn't have it either.

Officially. In practice, when your job is guarding the henhouse, you can have all the drumsticks you like.

So, it wasn't unusual for employees to come into my office (actually, the windowless, concrete-walled room in the basement where Alex and I sat surrounded by piles of electronic debris) to ask for something to be looked up online. "Bet-settler" should have been included somewhere in my position title.

To avoid attracting attention - there were other people monitoring the firewall logs, and excessive traffic could have been noticed - I sometimes tried to dissuade people from wanting things checked online. Fortunately, my squandered youth and largely-squandered adulthood has left my skull stuffed with vast amounts of utterly useless information, so I can often answer trivia questions without going online. Today was one of those days.

On a side note, I was once discussing the concept of "trivia" with a friend. In debating the utility of having a wide variety of superficial information at hand, I said that you never know when a specific factoid might come in handy. My exact words were, "Sometimes trivia becomes useful."

My much wiser friend replied, "Ah, but as soon as it becomes useful, it ceases by definition to be trivia."

Back to that day in our concrete bunker.

An employee came in, asking me to "check something on Wikipedia" for him. First I asked what he wanted to know.

It happened that a conversation in the next room had turned to the stars of days gone by, and the question was: who were the main members of the Rat Pack?

I rattled off a list of all of them except one. I knew I was one short, but the name wouldn't come to me, so I turned to Wikipedia and found that the missing name was Peter Lawford. (The fellow who came in had already known all except Lawford and Joey Bishop.)

Then it got weird. Our visitor asked, "OK, one more thing: who played the Snowman in Smokey and the Bandit?"

Without hesitation, I replied, "Jerry Reed."

It felt surreal, almost like an out-of-body experience. Even as I spoke, I had absolutely no idea where that information came from. I haven't seen Smokey and the Bandit, or had any interest whatsoever in it, since perhaps seeing it on TV in the early 1980s. Had someone asked me two minutes earlier, I'm certain that I would have had no idea who Jerry Reed was, or even that there was a character named Snowman in the movie. But when I was asked the question, there it was.

This is why my brain has no capacity for remembering things like my wedding anniversary or my own birthday (which I have honestly forgotten on at least one occasion, needing to check my driver's licence while filling out a video rental club's membership form). All my neurons are occupied with data concerning the films of Hal Needham.

Amused by my obvious shock, my co-workers laughed, and Alex said, "Who needs Wikipedia when you're around?"

Trying to regain my composure, I replied, "I am Wikipedia."

There remains one crucial difference, though: I am very rarely altered by anonymous editors.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a river.

1 comment:

RebelAngel said...

What sorts of alterations are available to be made?

Spelling? (Zerbirt, The Irritable Saint) Dates? (Date of Birth April 31, 1907)

Are we talking about minor details or significant changes? Backstory rewrites or major plot changes?
We could add a new baby, try to spice up the cast. How about twins?

Would you like to water ski over a shark cage?