A Fine Mess: Making Use of the Useless

2013-09-23T15:47:00Z A Fine Mess: Making Use of the UselessRick Kaempfer nwitimes.com
September 23, 2013 3:47 pm  • 

I’ve always prided myself in my encyclopedic knowledge of useless information. It was acquired through years of grueling research—watching hours upon hours of mindless television, listening to hours upon hours of unsubstantial radio, and reading an untold number of articles and books filled to the brim with completely meaningless facts.

Sure, I could have mastered accounting methods, or become an expert in the law, or better yet, studied medicine. All of those would have earned me a better living, and made me a more productive member of society.

But the knowledge I acquired over a lifetime of wasting time did lead to a moderately lucrative career. I was an invaluable member of several high profile radio shows in Chicago, largely on the basis of my useless knowledge. There was no need to look up what year Foreigner’s first album came out when you could just ask Rick. If you were having a discussion and suddenly needed to know the name of the actress who played Mrs. Roper in Three’s Company, I was your man. Who was the last president to sport a mustache? Let’s get Rick in here to answer the question.

I didn’t just parlay that useless knowledge into a career. I turned it into a social life.

There used to be nothing more valuable at a cocktail party than somebody who could engage in entertaining small talk while avoiding substantial topics like politics, religion or science. My wife and I were invited to many cocktail parties, and I usually ended up holding court, having in-depth discussions about important subjects like “guys named Mick”. If someone suggested we play a trivia game, the other guests would fight over who got me on their team.

People really began to count on me. I got regular phone calls from family members and friends who were on the road. Sometimes they would hold up the phone to the radio and ask “Who does this song?” or they’d start the call with a sentence like: “Settle an argument for us.”

Of course, those were golden days of entertainment, in the pre-smart phone era, the days when I could find a way to make use of the useless. All of that has changed drastically over the last five years.

What good is it to have Rick on staff coming up with trivia questions, when the answer to even the most useless question is right at everyone’s fingertips? Do you even care that I didn’t have to look up the name of the actor who played Mel Cooley on The Dick Van Dyke Show (Richard Deacon), or that I knew he also played Lumpy Rutherford’s dad on Leave it to Beaver?

Of course you don’t. You want to know why?

Because we know who that man is behind the curtain now, that’s why!

(It’s actor Frank Morgan, who also played the fortune teller, the doorman at the Emerald City, the guard at the Wizard’s castle, and the coachman in the 1939 version of “The Wizard of Oz”.)

If someone needs to find out Billy Williams’ 1970 batting average, they can just ask their phone. If they want to know which artist is singing a particular song, they merely need to hold their phone in the air to get a written answer…directly on their phone. Who needs to talk to the guy who can effortlessly tick off a list of seventeen bogus balding “cures” when a simple Google search will net you fifty?

I know technology cannot be stopped, but how ‘bout a little consideration for the useless? Aren’t we people too? If you take away our employment opportunities (I’m just waiting for the “write a funny article app”), how can we feed our families? If you take away our “court-holding” abilities, what are we good for at a cocktail party except for drinking all your booze? And if you take away our free booze, you might as well take away our souls.

I’m positively parched over here.

I sure hope you enjoy your stupid little phones.

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