Three Burning Questions

Originally published in the Lititz Record-Express, June 11, 2015 (but still unanswered)

We have become a culture saturated with information. But, despite the flood of round-the-clock news, the overload of marketing missives and the continuous intrusion of smart phone patter, there are three questions to which I can never seem to get answers. Perhaps some of our readers can help me.

Question 1: When/Why did highway “Guard Rails” become “Guide Rails.”

All my early and young adult life we had guard rails along the side of the road, to protect us. “Guard rail” was a familiar term. Nearly every day you’d hear someone say, or read an account in a newspaper that said, something like, “The car went through the guard rail and down the embankment.” Then, suddenly, the terminology seemed to change. I stopped hearing the words “guard rail” and, instead, started seeing signs which said, “No Guide Rails.”

Was I out of the country? Did I miss the memo? Certainly there had to have been a general announcement for so momentous a switch. Was it like that night in Sweden when they changed the whole country over from driving on the left side of the road to driving on the right? And I just slept through it?

Maybe I’m correct in my theory that a bunch of lawyers, whose inebriated clients plowed through guard rails, forced the authorities to back away from the implication that these things might actually protect. Or, perhaps, these are actually two different things. After all, I’ve never seen any signs that say “Guide Rails Here,” just ones that say “No Guide Rails.”  So maybe those barriers I see along the road are really still guard rails, but their name must remain unspoken. Could “Guide Rails” not really exist, just signs attesting to that fact? I remain totally confused.

My second question is about men’s underwear. Why is it white?

Without going into the more obvious details that provoke this question, let’s think about how much simpler life would be if men’s undershorts were a different shade, or maybe bi-color. The only reason I can think that they continue to make this stuff almost exclusively in white is planned obsolescence. They want to shame us guys into buying new, at least before the day of our annual physical. Of course, that can’t be it because their research would have long ago shown what every wife already knows: Getting a guy to discard his underwear is a near-impossible challenge.

Finally, in a desperate try at self-reform, I started dating my underwear. Yep, every time I put a new batch into service I first date it with a sharpie. The idea was that every four months I could simply discard a third of my stock and treat myself to the admittedly pleasant experience of new briefs. Hey, you can buy three pairs of decent underpants (BTW, why is one piece of underwear called a pair?) for the price of a beer at the Bull’s Head, so just abstain from drinking so much a couple of times a year and it’s a wash (no laundry pun intended). Alas, despite the absolute logic and ease of implementation of this scheme, I have to confess to still having a drawer-full of woefully overdue shorts. So, maybe the real question should be, “What’s with guy’s and their disgusting pants?” I’m sure that’s among the top three questions of most wives, all over the world.

Now, to the final mystery. What’s with all the surveys?

Buy something online and, boom, you are steered into a tedious process of multiple choice rating of the seller and/or the experience. Call the cable company and chew them out and you are begged to stay on the line and “take a few moments to answer some questions about your level of satisfaction.” Hey, if I were satisfied with you I wouldn’t have called in the first place. You shouldn’t need a survey to figure that out.

And my favorite, go to the car dealership for service and before you manage to limp home with severe posterior pain, there’s somebody calling to ask how it was. G-r-r-r-r!

Today, nearly everything you do begets a second step of approval measurement. You can’t take the dog for a walk without receiving a text or email asking whether you…and the mutt…enjoyed it. The interesting thing about this is that it’s third parties that usually conduct those annoying inquiries. Somebody contacts you from the Philippines or Mumbai or Nevada. It’s not even the person or company that provided you the service. So, there is now a global industry devoted to gauging your mood. Which makes you wonder if it’s really about having a concern for how you were treated, or if companies really want to improve their products or service.

Given the costs incurred in this practice and the amount of data being exchanged, isn’t it much more likely that this is just another scam to learn more about your attitudes and preferences so Google can predict with every greater accuracy what your next purchase might be…or what your next thought might be? Think about it!

Bonus question added at this posting: If the universe is expanding, what is it expanding into? I’ve read a lot of books on cosmology and not only has no one ever answered this question, I’ve never even seen it posed. Richard Feynmen, where are you now that I need you?

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