Saturday, March 7, 2009

Eduardo and the refrigerator

Here's a well-known anecdote showcasing the ready, dry wit of the great playwright and actor Eduardo De Filippo, known in Italy simply as Eduardo.

Decades ago, RAI had a monopoly on Italian TV and was somewhat puffed up with self-importance (this happens when you are a monopoly). One fine day someone from the broadcaster called Eduardo on the phone regarding business, saying: "This is the television speaking." Eduardo replied: "Just a moment, I'll pass you the refrigerator."

Like a lot of good wit, there is a serious meaning behind this repartee. Eduardo was saying that people communicate with people, not with appliances. Since that time we have become more and more prone to communicate by machines (computers and cell phones), as if we could only really relate to others indirectly. As if we were really involved with the device and not the person. I don't think it's a coincidence that the anecdote took place at the beginning of the television age in Italy. It's massive exposure to TV that has primed us to relate to the device and not the real world. Facebook (which is extremely popular in Italy and which I can't stand) is the end result of this process of alienation.

Of course you are reading this on a computer (or smartphone) screen. Yes, you are communicating with a vegetable using a machine. Hmmmmm.