Words to the Wise

The seeker of truth gasped as he reached the summit. The all-seeing oracle stood before him, its single green eye piercing the mysteries of the universe. Surely, understanding was at hand.

“Oh, great one,” the acolyte proclaimed, “share your wisdom with this unworthy pilgrim, that even the smallest crumbs of enlightenment may illuminate his way.”

And lo, the oracle did consider, and the eye did peer, and in what seemed mere moments the deathless words appeared.

“ON A SATURDAY MORNING,” the voice chanted, “WHATEVER YOU MIGHT HAVE FELT CANNOT BE UNFELT.”

Um. Yeah.

No, I haven’t turned my talents toward writing purple-prose fantasy novels, or inspiring the next great cult movement. (Between the Denver Broncos and “Hamilton,” all the good fanatics have been skimmed off, anyway.) Instead, I’ve been quietly amusing myself with one of the Internet’s more curious toys, the “Inspirobot.”

This has actually been around for a couple of years at inspirobot.me, but it’s only in recent months that it’s attracted mass attention. Essentially, it’s an instant “inspirational poster” generator, designed to pull up an enlightening backdrop and randomly generated timeless wisdom.

Trust me. Deepak Chopra this ain’t. So far, the words for the ages have included gems such as:

  • “A dream and a suit kills.”
  • “Quit being.”
  • “What seems cool to musicians, seems uncool to the person behind the mask.”
  • “Prepare for ambition. Not imprisonment.”

It kind of makes the magic 8-ball seem deep and profound, doesn’t it?

Once in a while, it’ll actually hit something kind of … well, understandable, if not actually deep. Things like “Be happy, or forget it.”  Or “Don’t be kind. Be extremely kind.” Or my personal favorite, which cannot be run in its entirety in a family newspaper, “Sometimes one needs to call a s***show a s***show.”

Simultaneously, I find this comforting, and frightening, and maybe even a cause for hope.

The comforting part is simple. Our computers, which have mastered chess, triumphed at go, and embarrassed the greatest Jeopardy masters in history, still create hilariously bad fortune-cookie aphorisms. So there’s still one post-journalism job market left open for now.

The frightening part is how easy it is to distill meaning from even the most awkwardly constructed phrases. ( I’m still waiting for a philosophical movement to begin around “Liars find meaning in grown men” or “A glass of wine beats levitation.”) Many people do it every day with their favored politicians, personalities, and public figures, reinterpreting their words and actions to fit a comfortable world view. Once again, it’s all too easy to invoke the Paul Simon rule: “Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”

And the cause for hope? However badly we may strain the search for meaning, we are still searching for it. We want things to make sense, even if we don’t always go about it in the right way or look in the right places. That’s at least the first step toward building something.

Of course, it still helps to have good material. And that’s why I’ve started to step away from the oracle of the Inspirobot and toward the Way of Gil. My six-year-old nephew has begun writing down his own dictates for life, and I rather like the direction:

“Good sport when you win but be nice.”

“Think, get so you know and reber (remember) so you get a A+.”

“Have fun, don’t play too ruff. But have fun!”

Mister Gil, the mountaintop awaits.

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