The story so far: half a billion years ago, give or take, the first microscopic specks of life began to form in the tepid primordial sludge then covering part of the three and a half billion year old Earth. Somehow, over 500 million years – barely a spit in cosmic terms – that ooze eventually became us.
That, at least, is the best theory we have about where we came from. Not great, is it? Forget what the shrill dogmatists tell you, we actually have no idea how barely animate micro-bugs evolved into our maddening complexity over such a short period of time. All we have is a theory, partially confirmed by observing the way lower life forms appear to change their biology over time.
Actually, the biggest problem with Evolution, bizarre as it might sound, seems to be that there wasn’t enough time for it to happen in the way suggested. But I digress. That wasn’t what I meant to talk about. I am here to pronounce upon the death of Evolution, or at least the throwing of it into reverse, if corporate marketing giants get their way.
Natural selection began half a billion years ago, but at least one mobile phone giant launched a campaign several years ago to turn it backwards. The ad from Vodafone commended to us the mayfly, that phenomenally shortlived creature of the early summer, much beloved of anglers.
The mayfly, the ad told us, lives for just a day, but do you hear him complaining about it? Eh, I guess not. We must all be like unto the mayfly, commanded Vodafone. Imagine how happy mayflys would be if they had access to wireless mobile technology, how they could fill up the ether with their happy non-thoughts.
Betcha they’d never complain about phone bills or how hard it is to make that customer service guy in Pakistan understand what they’re complaining about.
Customers, you must embrace the way of the mayfly. Live every day as if it was both your first and last. You know nothing and you’re not going anywhere. Don’t worry about Vodafone, we’re still getting paid.
The mayfly ad actually represented a substantial evolutionary step backward on the corporation’s previous campaign, when Vodafone encouraged its customers to make videos of themselves honking like monkeys. There’s actually a message here, buried under all the shiny colours and marketing gloop. This is how corporations actually see you: something less than hominids, something that needs its dreams boiled down to those of the mayfly.
What’s up for next year, I wonder? “The amoeba spends all its time oozing around a few centimetres of dark, dirty water, occasionally eating stuff that looks like other amoebas, then squirming hopelessly as bits of it split off to become still other amoebas. Do you hear the amoeba complaining about it? Of course you don’t.
“Become an amoeba today and get an even more expensive Vodafone account. Chat to all your fellow amoebas today via text, picture messaging, video and something even more expensive we’re about to launch next month. Remember, pseudopod brothers and sisters, don’t trust anyone with an I.Q. over 50.”
In a nearby globule of the same, rapidly dumbing down universe, I was clinging to the last remnant of sanity like a drunk trying to clutch a bar of soap while a PR amoeba oozed down the phone at me with phrases like “it’s de bast hoy colonic aver loike. You just loike, stan up on yer hawns, loike, attach de hose and loike torn it on. Yull feel loike a new mawnn. Um, you urr a mawn, urrn’t you?”
“Uh, well, I passed into a different dimension there for a few seconds but, yeah, I think so.”
“Hov yew aver hod a colonic before?”
“Em… (one of the problems with human-amoeba contact is the utter uselessness of any of our traditional tools of communication. Language is irrelevant, unless I have some method of sending emojis directly to her brain. I am thinking of some crusty old Kurt Vonnegut line about being comfortable, or at least resigned, to your own inner effluvia, but it would probably come out the other end of the phone as something like “blargle flargle splundigg vargle” and she’d just carry on regardless anyway) no.”
“Oh you should loike it’s fowbulous. Oim having one right neow. Oim literally upside dawn talking to yew roight now. Loike whammo.”
With some difficulty, I manoeuvre my pseudopods to indicate that I’d love to attend the press launch of the de bast aver hoy colonic aver next Saturday, but I’m double booked. I have to go to a symposium on scabies, and after that a press conference on flatulence (or is it the other way round? I can never remember.) But I remember to be quite passionate about wanting to read the press release.
I flatter myself that this mollifies her. I don’t know much about high colonics, but I presume you certainly don’t want to be agitated while having one.
It doesn’t matter anyway. She, or someone very like her, will be on to me in two weeks, explaining why Hillary Clinton (or has it moved on to Michelle Obama yet?) is the greatest human being in the entire history of the world.
If a genie popped out and offered me the chance to go back to the beginning, to start over and erase all my mistakes, I think I would answer him thus: “I wish to forget everything I know about history, literature, music, science, art and psychology. I want to grow pseudopods and become a part of the amoeba collective. It’s not a great step in evolutionary terms, but evolution is patchy and overrated, and at least I wouldn’t feel alienated anymore.”