Before the list of ingredients on every cereal box was a memento mori, those boxes were magic. You got a prize just for tearing the flap—a terrarium or a packet of Nestlé Quik (more sugar!) or even a crisp dollar bill. Best of all was a magic ring in a clear, crinkly wrapper—because who doesn’t want to slide power onto a finger?
I was reminded recently of the magic ring worn by Underdog, the cartoon beagle with the big head and blue cape. His slogan, “There’s no need to fear–Underdog is here,” was as easy to swallow as grape Kool-Aid because he had a magic ring that gave him superpowers—he could even move planets using his rear end as a spatula. Underdog’s secret? His ring contained a special compartment in which he kept his “super energy pill.” No wonder we were addicted.
Would Underdog be happy for us if he could see our magic rings? The new Smarty Ring may not confer Atomic Breath or Cosmic Ray Vision or let us give the planets a bum steer, but it can help us micromanage the hell out of the everyday. Its little LED screen monitor lets us take command of our own personal solar system. No longer do we have to rummage through our purses or slap our jacket pockets to find our smartphones. This ring, connected to our phones by Bluetooth, will let us make calls, play music, tell time. If we choose to slide the Smarty Ring onto a middle finger, each time we extend that digit to play with the ring, we tell the universe that we are not to be messed with. Every dog has its day.
I am always amazed by power that comes in small packages, and it seems mean-spirited to begrudge such an invention. However, such innovations are never culturally neutral, value free. It was actually a friend of Marshall McLuhan who said, “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us,” but the idea is, of course, vintage McLuhan. How will this new tool shape us? Its name suggests the sandbox, but I can’t believe it’s that simple. Will the Smarty Ring make us feel omnipotent at the same time we crack under the weight of our own expectations?
Had each of us a forge on which to hammer out our own magic rings, perhaps we should inscribe in them the words found in one commissioned by an ancient king. Dogged in his pursuit of wisdom, the king asked for a ring that would remind him of how fleeting is worldly power, how transitory are feelings of sadness and joy. The inscription he found? “This too shall pass.”
Have no fear–humility is here?