• Paul W. Smith

A Few of My Favorite Things


One of my favorite things, particularly in this pandemic-era of working from home, has to be the Internet. It is also one of my least favorite things. The reason it made both of my lists is not complicated, and perhaps best explained by this metaphor – the Internet is like the most extensive library on the planet, containing every document, book, work of art, song, movie, TV show, play – everything ever published – uncurated and piled in a giant heap in the middle of the floor. The Internet presents us with a wealth of information, but is also fuels anxiety, narcissism, and hateful, anonymous trolling. As a favorite ... cancelled.


You can tell quite a bit about a person from their favorite things. I sometimes wonder what my own favorites might reveal about my personality. For my birthday one year, my brother-in-law gave me a book touting the benefits of being more sloth-like, which then made the sloth one of my favorite animals. It also made me question his motives.


In the category of animal favorites, I have always listed pigs and monkeys, making it a point to stop at these two exhibits on each visit to the zoo. Monkey behavior is intriguing in the way it mimics that of humans, and you can watch them for hours (as long as you don’t stand too close to the cage). If you have watched monkeys for very long, you will know what I am talking about. As for the pigs, my therapist and I are still working on it, so don’t ask.


Another animal that has been on my list for a while is the giant anteater. Like a lot of things in life, the anteater is often a source of disappointment – anteaters are fundamentally nocturnal, so many of my encounters with this strange looking creature center around the large color poster next to their exhibit, or the scores of anteater videos streaming on the Internet. I have always said that anteaters, with their giant snouts and 2 ft tongues, are proof that God has a sense of humor. Perhaps the anteaters are saying the same thing about me.


Along with the anteater videos, the latest bad news is right there in front of us every morning on our computer screens. Last month, the US death count for Covid-19 was over 600,000 people with the rate once again on the rise. The jobs report was disappointing, and the global supply chain was starting to fall apart, with red flags for the upcoming holiday shopping season.


While Covid-19 was going viral through the world population, and bad news about the economy was similarly going viral on the Internet, there was another viral phenomenon starting to build – the capybara scratch on Twitter. It was a classic juxtaposition of existential angst and legendary chill.


Cats are currently the most popular animal on the Internet. Known for being enigmatic and aloof, they would seem to be a perfect fit for the online community. Nevertheless, the capybara is making a run for it. Known as the largest and most laid back of all the rodent family, they resemble the Guinea pigs to whom they are related. Their Internet presence includes a Facebook group known as A Group Where We All Pretend to Be Capybaras. Lately, the moderator has been anxiously admonishing the members to quit posting random stuff and return to the original charter of pretending to be a chill, net-savvy rodent.


The highly social capybara typically lives in a group of a dozen or more individuals and thrives on genuine relationships with its peers. While monkeys, pigs and giant anteaters all appear to be preoccupied with foraging for food and showcasing their survival extinct, capybaras exude an almost visceral calm. They will mingle casually with other species and defy the principles of evolution by sharing food with a less-able capybara even when there is no obvious personal gain. Scientists call this “prosocial” behavior, while regular folks would say it is just simple kindness.


Scientists have long been fascinated with animal behavior, and there are plenty of theories about what your favorite creatures say about your personality. Monkey admirers never take themselves too seriously, and always find a way to have a good time. Those who favor pigs are friendly and likeable by nature and see themselves as the underdog. While data on giant anteaters is scarce, I would assume their admirers are nocturnal humans, or people who are comfortable living with disappointment.


How the capybara has managed to thrive on the Internet remains a mystery of contrasts. They are well-liked throughout the animal world – chances are that your favorite animal gets along well with the capybara. They never pick fights, believe in taking care of one another, and appear to have an inbred capacity for kindness that may have existed for millions of years. They prefer to live together in peace and serenity.


And serenity is one of my favorite things.


Author Profile - Paul W. Smith - leader, educator, technologist, writer - has a lifelong interest in the countless ways that technology changes the course of our journey through life. In addition to being a regular contributor to NetworkDataPedia, he maintains the website Technology for the Journey and occasionally writes for Blogcritics. Paul has over 40 years of experience in research and advanced development for companies ranging from small startups to industry leaders. His other passion is teaching - he is a former Adjunct Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. Paul holds a doctorate in Applied Mechanics from the California Institute of Technology, as well as Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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