Wednesday, December 09, 2009

exactly how intelligent should the monkey be?

Yesterday I was tasked with some data entry. Usually this is a welcomed change from the usual, but I guess I just wasn't in the mood. After two minutes I had the hang of it, and the thought occurred to me: "You could train a monkey to do this."

I started wishing someone would ask me how the data entry was going so that I could say, "Like most of what I do here, you could train a monkey to do this."

Then things got kind of meta when I decided that that sentence needed an adjective. I spent at least an hour while I was entering data trying to decide which adjective would make the phrase the funniest.

"You could train a smart monkey to do this, like most of what I do here."

"You could train a kind of dumb monkey to do this, like most of what I do."

I repeated this sentence over and over, for an hour, substituting different levels of intelligence. I tried out smart, pretty smart, unexceptional, mediocre, kind of dumb, pretty dumb, and mentally challenged.

A smart monkey is funny because of its precision. The job is too easy for a dumb human being, but just right for a smart monkey. Unexceptional and mediocre appealed to me because I was trying to picture teaching a monkey how to do what I was doing, and I liked the idea that you could go out and pick any monkey, you wouldn't even have to find a smart one. The more bitter I became, the more "pretty dumb" appealed to me.

By the end of the day, I was trying to decide whether you would have to teach the monkey how to read before he could do the job. I reasoned that you wouldn't, as long as he was really good at matching pictures. Letters are pictures, words are pictures, etc. I decided that you would first want to try to teach an illiterate human being, just so you knew what you were getting yourself into with the monkey.

What can I say? I have a brain, and it demands that I find something for it to do.

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