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Smile-breaks

Excerpt from "Time Outs for Grown-Ups, 5 Minute Smile-breaks.
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Forks and Computers

     If you look at a fork, it's actually quite nice. No instruction manual. No reset button. No dials or moving parts. Did I say quite nice? Make that very nice. And a fork is obedient, resting there beside your plate. Well-mannered.

     "Well, it's only a fork," you say. "It's not like it's a computer or something."

     No, but it can handle an unlimited array of menus and has the capacity for more bytes—er, bites— than any computer could ever hope to have. So I think we should appreciate our forks. Especially as we lick the last vestiges of maple syrup from the tines.

     Another nice feature of the fork is its timeless design. With no upgrades to purchase and install, one fork will last a lifetime. Some have been known to last two or three lifetimes, having been passed down from generation to generation.

     As you pick up your fork at dinner tonight, listen. You can hear the conversation going on around the table, because your fork makes no noise. Silently it sits beside the knife and spoon, patiently waiting as you tell your guests about your last five vacation trips.

     Your guests might stifle a yawn or two, look hopefully toward the front door, or rudely interrupt by passing the broccoli, but your fork rests politely between your fingers, never complaining—always at the ready.

     Across from you three forks graciously feed your guests, keeping them awake and preventing them from interrupting you. As the clock strikes eight, a teaspoon at the end of the table tinkles charmingly against a china cup filled with strong, dark coffee, reminding you this guest has sipped his way through four cups of the brew, and maybe - just maybe - it's time for you to wind up your fascinating, but lengthy, monologue.

     "Oh, my. Have I been talking all this time?" Your fork clatters to the table as everyone chimes in, "Oh, but your vacations are so interesting."  

     Your fork knows better. But it's not a computer. It can't make that little "ding" sound and flash a message across your plate: "You have just performed an inconsiderate operation. Story exceeds byte capacity. Log off immediately." You're on your own when it comes to forks.

     It's the same with the fork in the road. There are no signs or flashing messages there, telling you what to do. Should you stoop over and pick it up? Or step over it and continue on your way?

     Well, as the politician would say, "That depends." And he would hold his finger to the wind to determine if the fork was valuable. See if it was registered. Is it part of a coalition? Not being sure, he would call in the pollsters.

     But if you're not a politician, you just pick up the fork, brush it off, and stick it in your pocket. Wouldn't want someone to trip over it. Or a small child to put it in his mouth and get all those germs.

     If you have your laptop with you, you might log onto the internet to see if anyone will trade a lottery ticket for the fork. A lottery ticket, after all, is quite similar to a fork. No instruction manual. No reset button. It does require weekly upgrades, but that gets you out of the house, away from the computer and out into the vibrant, multi-dimensional real world, where live human beings actually meet and interact without benefit of chatrooms, e-mail and such.

     Which is more than a fork does. A fork tends to keep you inside - at the table - a little longer than you'd planned. Especially the dessert fork. That one's hard to resist. The shortened tines indicate that you should take smaller bites, savor every tiny morsel of this sweet ending to your repast, before returning to the complications of computers and the work you brought home from the office.

     Bet you never thought of a fork that way. I never did either. But Spiegel put a simple fork with a crimson napkin on the cover of their catalogue and that just got me to thinking. Of all the household appliances and gadgets between the covers of the catalogue, someone chose a fork to tempt our consumer tastes. A fork. A work of art. A tool of necessity. Well, almost necessary. I guess we could do without it—but then we'd need a lot more of those crimson napkins.

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