And Pigs Have Wings

Sometimes, the good people at Lexpert and Thomson Reuters let me be so ridiculously self-indulgent… such as here.

flying pigs

Last Word: And Pigs Have Wings

Lexpert, April 2009

By Marzena Czarnecka

We’re facing each other over plates of over-priced eggs and criminally over-priced coffee ($5.50 a cup! Jeezuz Kee-rist, is it made in a golden urn by Vestal virgins or what?) in one of those weird breakfast meetings that aren’t so much about business and business development but swapping gossip, alternately playing a torturous game of mental chess of “well, I know that—do you know that?”, when it happens. Hell freezes over. Pigs have wings.

John Black whips out a BlackBerry.

You may remember John Black, he who started Lexpert Directory, magazine et al. back in the day lawyers didn’t know some of them were photogenic and articulate (and ever so many didn’t know just how unphotogenic and inarticulate they could be made to appear. Have I mentioned to y’all recently that I really, really love my work?). But I digress: there, in front of my perfectly sober if perhaps not sufficiently caffeinated eyes is John Black, in flesh, also sober (really—breakfast meeting, remember) and fairly well caffeinated, and he is holding… a BlackBerry.

Maybe, I think desperately, it’s just a prop. It’s his tech-savvy wife’s, that’s what it is. This, after all, is the man I used to call my favourite Luddite. The man for whom assistants printed all his e-mails. The man who kept on asking me to fax him stuff in, like, 2003. (Who had a working fax in 2003?) The man who did not have a computer on his desk and who kept on referring to websites—still does, in fact—as portals. (As in, to another, alien world.)

As demons line up to purchase touques, John starts using the darn thing. I go into cardiac arrest. He’s looking for a restaurant address. And if he’s faking me out, he’s doing a very credible job of imitating the BlackBerry prayer. His thumbs look like they know what they’re doing. (I open my frozen, shocked mouth to make an off-colour comment about the things men used to get calluses on their thumbs from, but decide it would be unprofessional.)

So as John “can you fax it to me?” Black fiddles with his BlackBerry, I have another one of those gut-wrenching realizations that the world has forever changed. Never mind globalization 3.0., the current financial world crisis, and the first-ever African American, as that nation defines those things, president of the United States. (I meant video games. Get your friggin’ mind out of the gutter.)

What’s really new is that we, in the First World and the countries that aspire to its glutinous style of living, are now living in a mostly virtual world. There, in front of me, was proof absolute: a man who not that long ago composed 10,000 word diatribes—I mean, well-researched, carefully thought-out analyses, heh, heh, forgot he still has a subscription to the darn magazine—on the Canadian legal market in long-hand, today plugging into the ‘Net to look up an address. (OK, I didn’t really mean video games. What counts is that I didn’t say it. At the time.)

The old John Black—the John Black I thought I knew—would have asked the waitress. Who would have, if she didn’t know, checked the telephone book. (Granted, I can’t remember the last time I saw a telephone book, even my telephone book. I remember some poor wretches delivering it to my door with the comment that they would appreciate it I wouldn’t toss it into the recycling until after they were out of my sight—it had been a hard day, I guess.)

In this virtual world, people do everything on-line. They meet. They mate. (Three of the last four weddings I’ve attended were the result of initially virtual hook-ups.) Now, they even divorce on-line: two of my friends are currently divorcing on Facebook. (For the record, before you go searching for me on Facebook—I’m not on there. I’ve got enough real friends, thanks. But everyone else is, so I get to hear all about it. Lucky me.) It’s eerie and icky. They post daily updates about their mental states, the sucky things their soon-to-be-ex spouse did recently, the vengeful things they’re going to their soon-to-be-ex spouse, etc. etc. Their friends add their comments. Or de-friend one or the other of them. (Would real life were that easy: I de-friend you. Disappear from my world. Begone! I get the appeal of that, oh boy.)

I don’t mind the virtual world, you know, BlackBerry-free borderline-Luddite that I am. I use it heavily; occasionally exploit it. But I privilege real human contact over the virtual thing, in pretty much all aspects of life (except, I grant you, interaction with particularly irritating and ornery lawyers. Those, I prefer to know only virtually).

So I’m quite pleased—gleeful in fact—when John Black fails in his quest, slips the BlackBerry into his pocket, and asks me if I know the restaurant’s address.

And the ending to this rant would be so much poignant if I had been able to say, “207 9th Avenue SW,” but alas, unaccustomed as I am to frequenting places where a cup of black, unadulterated, plain coffee costs $5.50 and a lunch deal starts at $29 a plate, I mutter something indistinct about conspicuous consumption and turn my head to watch pigs fly around our table.

Marzena Czarnecka is a Calgary-based freelance writer, who seriously wonders how anyone still dares to ask her to breakfast, lunch or dinner. It must be her incredibly scintillating conversation.

• Thomson Reuters article record

2012 Update: Oh, yes, I am now on Facebook. So are all my real friends. And on LinkedIn. My entire professional network is there. And I’m on Twitter (@paddleink). But I still don’t own a Blackberry. Phhhht.