Mightier Than a Sword

By Raajeev Aggerwhil

Another year has gone by.

I was recently watching the news and heard that students in middle and high school had a terrible year. In some school districts, the number of students getting an F increased more than three times to 40 percent. I think with the lack of classroom learning, lack of social interaction and peer to peer learning, our cognitive abilities have declined. Furthermore, watching streaming TV shows nonstop has probably contributed to our minds becoming mush.

This decline has also been accelerated because of the penetration of digital access: anytime digital media. If this trend continues, society will become less intelligent. Luckily, there is a vaccine in sight. However, I tried to imagine if such a trend continued for several years. I wondered how companies would operate in an environment where most people have lost their ability to think or have basic common sense. The US is a litigious society, so companies would need to be extra cautious providing instructions for trivial things.

Here is an example of an instruction manual for a #2 pencil.

Congratulations on the purchase of this sophisticated mightier-than-a-sword writing instrument. Please read the following instructions carefully for your own safety and for the safety of all others around you.

The schematic diagram of this writing instrument is included below. Please note that the pink spongy end will be referred to as the “eraser side." The other corner will be referred to as the “writing side," “the blunt side" or simply the “dark side."

Take the writing instrument out of the clear plastic wrapping. Depending on your order, your packet may contain a pack of 6 or 12 such writing instruments. You can choose to discard the transparent plastic wrapping and store the instruments in a separate box. These instruments do not need to be refrigerated.

Now carefully insert the writing side in the pencil sharpener. Caution: Under no circumstance should you insert the eraser side of the pencil in the sharpener. Doing so may cause an irreparable harm to your writing instrument and may also render your sharpener dysfunctional and beyond repair. The company will not be liable for damage to the pencil, your body or your ego if these instructions are not followed properly

Please note that the instructions for the use of the pencil sharpener may vary depending on the type of pencil sharpener and is beyond the scope of this document. However, under the CYA or CYB (Cover-your-Backside) regulation, we would like to advise you that you should not put your finger, especially your pinky, or any other hanging parts of the body in the sharpener. The company will not be liable for damage to the pencil or to yourself (physical or psychological) if instructions are not followed properly.

Once your pencil is sharpened, hold it with your thumb, forefinger and middle finger and start writing. For optimal writing quality, the pencil should be facing the paper at a 45-degrees to 55-degrees angle. An angle above 80-degrees may be uncomfortable and may cause unnecessary strain on your wrists. A perpendicular angle (90-degrees) or an obtuse angle (over 90 degrees) while writing may result in an early onset of Carpel Tunnel Syndrome. Please consult your physician if you notice any tingling and numbness in your fingers or hands. Keep in mind we will not be held liable for any issues of Carpel Tunnel Syndrome or any other problems related to tingling and numbness. Use at your own risk.

Please be advised that the sharpened pencil can be dangerous to young children. It should not be left unattended.

Under no circumstances should either side of the pencil (especially the sharpened side) be put in the ear. Again, serious injuries to the ear drum have been reported by unscrupulous people with horny ear drums.

Either side of the pencil should not be put in your eye. Injuries to eye or retina have been reported by people who did not exhibit carefulness and tried to use the sharpened side of the pencil as mascara.

Do not use the sharpened pencil to take a splinter out from your child's finger. Using the sharpened side this way can be dangerous and may cause the sharp edge of the lead to break and get buried in the skin.

Do not use the sharpened side of the pencil to scratch your head or create an illusion of more hair. Accidental injuries such as bleeding and even death from lead poisoning have occurred in cases of creative morons trying to experiment with ingenious ways of using this instrument.

Do not attempt to use this writing instrument for the temporary relief of hemorrhoids. Doing so may cause severe damage to your back side.

Do not use this writing instrument as a stirrer in coffee or tea because the lead from the pencil may dissolve in the hot water and over a period of time, may cause lead poisoning.

Congratulations once again! You may start using this writing instrument now.

While researching this article, I found out that pens and pencils are both more dangerous than sharks. Every year, 6000 people go to the hospital for pencil-related injuries. Many times, the injuries are the result of a pencil being stuck in someone's eye. While other times, sharp pencils stab and cut the skin. Of these 6000 injuries, more than a 100 prove to be fatal. (Source: Sharksider.com)

Let's hope even after this pandemic is over, we never have to live in a dystopian society where we would need such superfluous instructions for mundane activities. On the other hand, when I look at some existing contracts with my cell phone and mobile service carriers, I notice a universal trend. Their agreements have become longer and tedious with more sections in fine print. For example, the Apple iTunes end-user agreement contains a clause prohibiting its use to construct weapons of mass destruction. “You will not use these products for any purposes prohibited by United States law, including, without limitation, the development, design, manufacturer, or production of nuclear, missile, or chemical or biological weapons," the agreement reads. (Source: NPR.org)

Recently, while setting up my new iPhone 12 and scrolling through multiple screens of a long legal agreement, I was thinking of the bumper stickers I used to see around 1984 during my college days at Berkeley: “George Orwell was an optimist." I don't know how close we actually are to the Orwellian society of overarching government and big corporations as imagined by the author. I do know that he was onto something.

One thing is for sure. Our overdependence on the digital media and the social isolation imposed by the pandemic has slowed down our mental faculties. I, for one, find myself relying on Siri for more advice. I asked it to review the legal agreement on my behalf and then asked, “Siri, can you bring me a mightier-than-a-sword writing instrument so I can sign it?" Siri responded, “Do you mean a pencil? Please refer to page number 27 of the instruction manual for its use before proceeding."


Los Angeles-based comedian Raajeev Aggerwhil has starred in Nickelodeon's TV show 100 Things to Do Before High School and also acted in the film based on the television series. See his videos at www.youtube.com/channel/UCG8qILCj3j3DOqisy2zfUDA.