Somewhere in the world there exists a clip of Hugh Hefner on one talk show or another. I can neither remember what the show was nor the exact wording of the exchange, but the following paraphrase has become legendary in my family:
INTERVIEWER: Do you consider yourself a genius?
HEFNER: Genius is a difficult word to define. But by any definition, I am one.
Hef may be a law unto himself, but genius, a word that used to be the sole domain of the upper reaches of the IQ scale, is now thrown around like grass seed. Maybe it’s the effect of language evolution or intelligence inflation—after all, only recently has it became compulsory for one’s child to be intellectually gifted—but it can’t be denied that genius no longer packs the awe-inspiring punch it once did.
Standing in line at the nearest Apple Store yesterday, I couldn’t help but wonder: Do the various professional Geniuses there find their appellation hilarious? Do they joke about it all the time? Or are some jokes—in the words of Doris Day in Pillow Talk—too obvious to be funny? One thing I did notice: the people working the Genius Bar all seemed to get along really well. It was like the most collegial workplace I’d ever seen. Maybe because they’re all on the same intellectual level, and engaged in the same enterprise, obscure to much of humanity. Did everyone get along so well on the Manhattan Project?
To me, the workings of a computer are so mysterious, so frightening, that the easy competence with which the Geniuses handle all problems might as well be rocket science. When a very pleasant Genius named Jamie diagnosed the problem that had been sucking up space on my hard drive, opening up some fourteen new gigabytes, I suddenly understood why vulnerable women are always falling for their surgeons and spiritual leaders: in that moment, I was completely in love with him. I found myself wishing that I had put on some mascara, and had not—in deference to the muggy heat—dressed in a free-flowing cotton dress reminiscent of my mother circa summer ’84. (In summer ’84, bear in mind, my mother was pregnant.) I also wished I didn’t have a picture of Susan Sontag in a bear costume on my desktop.
When I signed the electronic screen at the end of my appointment, I attempted to redeem myself by asking what I hoped was an intelligent question: If we all write like five-year-olds on these screens, how is the signature any deterrent to identity theft?
Well, he said, it could all be checked against records—the signature itself is not the point. “Some people will even sign an X,” he explained.
“Like medieval illiterates?” I asked excitedly. And for the first time, the Genius’s face bore the same look of total, bored incomprehension I’d been sporting since I entered the air-conditioned confines of the Apple Store.