The law of below-averages

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There are things I marvel at in my day-to-day life: The way wifi works; The fact that someone figured out how wifi works in the first place: frequency, amplitude, phase, ones and zeros decrypted to become pictures and sounds.

It’s all to do with radio waves and apparently really quite simple. For you, maybe. For me, not so much.

I’ve always thought of myself as a middle-of-the-road smart person – I don’t think I’m above or below median, mean or mode average. I think I’m averagely average-smart (for my height).

So I’ve recently taken issue with my friend Phil’s opinion on what characteristics denote an ‘averagely smart’ person. He obviously considers me less than averagely smart.

Over a couple of beers I asked him if he’d ever read Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’.

His response, ‘Yes, it was fascinating.’
Me: ‘Did you make it to the last chapter? I struggled’
Phil: ‘Oh yes, I read it over a weekend’
Me: ‘Did you follow it?’
Phil: ‘Pretty much.’
Me thinking: ‘Phil, you are such a liar.’

If any of you got past chapter four of Hawking’s ‘beginners guide’ to quantum physics without having to use the long-Covid brain fog excuse for struggling to understand pretty much any of the remaining nine chapters (and the Dark Matter postscript addendum), you’re either like my mate Phil, or you should go straight to Oxbridge. For mine you’re an above-average smart person in my averagely-smart opinion.

Phil, you’re still just a liar.

But thank God for the smart people who do understand quantum physics, wifi, et al; Without them the world would be run by simpler ‘average smart people’ like me, and I don’t think that would be an altogether good thing.

We’d be blithely assuming global warming is just a long patch of really nice warm weather with quite a lot a lot of winter rain thrown in, to balance things up.

We’d still be applying leeches to our foreheads to sooth our headaches and telling the kids not to swim out too far because they might fall off the end of the map.

So why, when we regularly marvel at the achievements of mankind’s smart people, do we tolerate the impositions on our daily lives of our lesser-smart brethren?

Consider for a moment –

  • People in the US still measure stuff in feet and inches – 3/16ths of an inch … really?
  • Planners insist we build separate male and female toilets in public places – the whole issue of trans-gender bathroom provision could be eliminated if we just have generic bathrooms the way we do at home – no gender classification required. Problem solved.
  • Men wear pants and women wear dresses – someone please tell me why this is so and if we can amend the rules slightly some time soon.
  • FFWD … women can wear pants, but blokes still can’t easily pull off sporting a new season’s A-line semi-formal ensemble … WTF.
  • Half the world drives on the left side of the road, the others on the right (except for Naples where choice of side is optional) – who decided those rules, or more importantly who decided to fake left and go right, thereby rendering half the world’s car fleet unusable?
  • Hunting critically endangered African Black rhinos is permitted in South Africa as a conservation measure – now I am confused: So you can shoot them thereby saving them from extinction? Okay.
  • The necktie – the origin of the necktie can be traced back to the 17th Century, during the 30 Years’ War (1618-1648). Call me an ultra-progressive, but personally I feel they’re a little outdated now.
  • You can buy buy a G&T on the plane, but you can’t take a bottle of water onboard. I don’t want to sound officious, but really Air New Zealand, that’s not responsible host behaviour.
  • In 2020 a one litre bottle of water cost more than a litre of petrol – thank God that anomaly has recently been corrected.

(Back on the plane) “Those toenail clippers are a ‘no no’, sorry sir, but it’s OK, we’ll give you a knife and fork with your meal once we’re safely in the air.” I’d generally feel marginally less threatened by a toe-nail clippers wielding hijacker than I did in 1997 by Uncle Norm throwing a steak knife at me when he had one too many ports on Christmas day.

Not one of the items on its own is particularly, life-threateningly, egregious, but in a world where the smart people have enabled me to face-time my mother on the other side of the world via wifi, surely we can do better at addressing even some of the items on the ‘dumb human stuff’ list.

Sure the petrol price is back where it should be now – more expensive than water – but I still struggle with tying a full Windsor.

Related: TV is not what it used to be

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Alan Neben
Alan Neben
Alan Neben is a Mount Maunganui local and experienced New Zealand publisher. His columns provide a light-hearted perspective on social changes effecting New Zealanders

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