An Obscure Sorrow
In the style of John Koenig’s “Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows”:
The total mental labor that produced an artifact
Look around you. Pick up an object; say, a pencil. Look at it. Note the details of its design. Somebody thought of each one.
It has a six-sided cross-section. Someone decided on six sides, not three or four or five or round. It is painted black. Someone chose that shade. Printed along a side is the company’s name, that pencil’s brand, some symbols and numbers. Someone chose each of those.
The eraser is navy blue. Someone chose that color. The pencil is joined to the eraser by a metal band. The band has five bands; green, yellow, green, yellow, green. Someone chose those colors. The middle green band has ripples. Someone decided just how many.
Someone decided which kind of wood for the pencil, and which rubber, and which mix of graphite and clay for the lead, and which metal for the band.
And behind these recent designers are older designers. Someone thought of marking paper with a mix of graphite and clay. Someone figured out how to put that lead inside wood. Someone joined rubber to it, for the first time.
These ideas did not come of themselves. Someone thought them.
And after these recent designers are the laborers, who also had to think. How to mine the clay and graphite, how to mix and bind them; how to cut the wood and put the lead in; how to carve an eraser and bind it to the pencil; how to paint and print on the pencil’s side; and finally, taking that and many other pencils to the store for you to buy.
Making just that pencil required years of accumulated attention. Now look around some more; what do you see? A cup, perhaps, or a pen, or a stapler, or a calculator, or a shelf of books, or a computer…
Thought-years. Thought-centuries. Thought-millennia and more. You are surrounded by an invisible city of service.
Humanity is superhuman.