The other day an online poll asked what was the most used object in people’s everyday lives. I am pretty sure what the editors of the site were looking for were the yuppie-sanctioned answers such as “Blackberry” and “Espresso Machine.” Answers that look good for online advertisers; assuring them that their ad dollars reached the much sought after, moneyed, consumer. But when I got around to answering this question for myself, I made some startling discoveries.
My first thought was, of coarse, my computer. I use it probably every five minutes when I am in reach of it. It is the first thing I check in the morning, and the last thing I look at, at night. But then I made the question harder. I qualified the question a little: the thing that was the most used, had to also be the most useful. Sure, I use my computer to look at pictures of people I hate on Facebook*, write stupid entries on a blog, and manage the $14 in my bank account, but really those acts were not useful. I hardly think that writing terrible online poetry was of use to anyone, least of all myself. I didn’t gain anything from performing these activities. My life was not being enriched, or added to by the poorly rhymed couplets in the poetry, and I was not being sustained looking at the pictures of people I despised most with their new puppy. If I were a computer scientist the computer would probably be my answer, as it would provide interest, work, and income. But until I get paid for my stupid blog, or can sell the jokes I crack about my high school acquaintances’ inexplicable hair, my computer will have to settle for second place.
My mind jumped immediately to the next go-to answer: the cell phone. I am sure lots of people responded to the online poll that their cell phone was more useful to them than their left arm. Maybe mine would be too if mine wasn’t suffering from senility, and other old age related problems. The cracked screen is impossible to read in direct sunlight, messages either send twice or not at all, and the battery last about 40 minutes if it remains closed and does not receive any calls. So I am sure that people responded to say that their fancy Blackberry-messager/ camera phones/ media devices are their most used and useful appliances. I couldn’t. Really it wasn’t that useful, even when it was functioning. Being minimally employed, I never received work calls, and nobody else was in dire need to get a hold of me. On the day I pondered the most significant item in my life I had received only two text messages. One from my brother that said “Supper?” and another from my sister reading: “Hocus Pocus is on Family Channel right NOW!” Both of them being extremely important, but it was the message that was more important than the medium. My family could get into contact with me through various other, more reliable means. My brother, who lets me stay in his guest bedroom as a “writer in residence” could ask to feed me when he got home from work. My sister could send a smoke signal, or really, think a thought hard enough, and our shared brain, would communicate that thought to me. The pessimist in me, AKA the voice of my father that forever echoes in my mind, would tell me that when I get into a spot of trouble on the road (racing trains, or hitting deer) my cell phone could save my life. All valid points, but MY cell phone was so unreliable, it made sibling ESP seem like a rational emergency measure. So, even in the event of a crisis my cell phone was not the most used, and useful object in my life. What scared me was that my brain was possibly the most used and useful object in my possession, and that thought was too scary to entertain for more than a minute. Why? Because the other day I complained to a friend that the email attachment she sent me was faulty because nothing showed up when I opened it. She very wisely instructed me all I had to do was scroll down and the content of the message would be revealed, and that it was me, not the email that was faulty. There had to be a man-made object that was less finicky, and mistake ridden then my own brain. So the search continued.
I ran a list of all the objects that I used regularly in my daily life. Sure a clock was useful but the TV and microwave had time keeping capabilities and I used those appliances far more often. Of the two, TV was something that was used far too often actually, but was it actually useful? Sure, it calmed and cajoled my tiny brain with its moving pictures and sounds. But other than watching The View twice a day to really let the hot topics really sink in, I wasn’t gaining anything from it. TV was a time-suck, a blessed and fantastic time suck, but it wasn’t that useful. If I watched the news, or tuned into the enlightening and informative programming of PBS I could say, as I always argued to my mother, that TV is important. Realistically though, instead of watching TV I could be contributing to the world in some way, therefore it was not useful.
Wanting to be cool and be perceived as someone “of the moment” I briefly entertained the idea that my iPod was answer. But then I tried to remember where I left it and when was the last time I had used it, and I knew I was kidding myself. I’m not a music lover so there was no use contemplating it, stereos, CDs or other really cool things like guitars and cymbals. People who confess that they can’t live without music in their lives inspire my envy. I would give anything to be that involved with music, or to understand it in some way. I’m sure to these people the objects that give them music, like iPods and guitars, are their most cherished possessions. But in my reality an iPod holds Christmas music and theme songs from 90’s sitcoms. Those did not aide in inspiration or understanding, but merely made me look crazy when I sang along to them on the bus. I have this romantic idea that listening to the radio, and the ownership of a radio was of the utmost importance to people of a different generation. The news was important, the weather was important, and gathering around the radio with your family to listen was important. But today, people didn’t do that. They don't sit on hooked rugs with wooden toys anymore and listen to radio plays with whole family. Besides I don’t even own a radio.
My dignity prevented me from naming my Snuggie, Mr. Snugs, as the most influential object in my life, although he probably deserved it. I use him everyday to keep me warm, and as company when I’m lonely, but I think of him as a friend not a object. I thought it was impossible to give any single object the title of “Most Important” but then I began to look outside of the box and I settled on my answer.
I actually thought about my answer as I was washing dishes. Sorting through the various food containers that I use to re-heat take out I noticed there was a lot more of one type of utensil: the butter knife. In my sink of dirty dishes, I had used every butter knife my brother owned. I used one to make my peanut butter toast in the morning, thus aiding me in ingesting the one source of regular protein I receive. I used one at lunchtime to butter the outside of my grilled cheese, and to cut it. I used a butter knife to spread the jam on my sandwich at supper. I used a butter knife to cut my steak when I have it, and I use a butter knife to open boxes of Kraft Dinner. Whether scraping the crumbs out of the toaster, or getting those hard to reach places in electrical outlets the unique shape and form of the butter knife lends itself to useful activities. Spreading, scraping, cutting, stabbing, the butter knife does it all. There are few functions that the butter knife cannot perform. And it is the beauty and simplicity of the instrument, that allows for the unashamed hording of anywhere from twelve to forty of them in a drawer. Multiples assure that there is always one on hand to perform a task. Prying, banging, and waving are also tasks that the butter knife can perform, and not a day goes by that I don’t utilize at least one of them.
So there you have it. You can look around the modern world and see a thousand and one objects that you use, that you love, and that are really expensive, but maybe the most useful objects are the ones we over look. Sure the narcissist in me would love to go on about the magnificence of my mac-book, or the fabulosity of the other technical gadgets that occupy my space and time, but to put it simply, the butter knife is the only thing that cuts it.
* stolen from Ashton