It’s 2011 — do you know what your towel is?

May I be the first to wish you a happy Towel Day, and hope that your towel is within arm’s reach.

For those not firmly steeped in the Hitchhiker’s lore, let me explain. First, this day is not akin to Talk Like a Pirate Day, a made-up holiday meant for good, clean, pirate-y fun and corny jokes. Ignore the various excuses for scientists to host a BBQ posted on Towel Day is a serious affair, a day of preparedness for anything the universe were to throw at you.

Because I am not as able to explain this as well as Douglas Adams, I shall shamelessly crib his brilliance:

“A towel, [the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy] says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

“More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

“Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)”

During the morning commute, it occurred to me: the towel is a metaphor for any genuinely useful tool that humans use for everything (for those of you saying, “well, duh!” give me a break. I first read Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in high school, when I was more interested in learning how to fly than in literary analysis). To use another metaphor, it’s the duct tape for our day-to-day life.

I began wondering — what would be the “towel” for our day? What do we find ourselves turning to on a regular basis to ensure we’re able to survive the adventures we undertake?

I’m inclined to propose “smartphone.” Consider the usefulness of the gadgets and apps that are being tied to our cellular phones! Cameras that even the pros use to snap some quick shots! Maps and navigation devices! Calculators! Plus, what kind of phone you have says a lot about you, and we brandish our phones with pride — including the ones that don’t do anything but make phone calls, because even that is representative of what we stand for in this information-soaked world. Were one to leave the house without one’s phone, he or she would be lost, unconnected from the world.

Let’s insert “phone” into Mr. Adams’ quote: “Hey, you sass that hoopy Paul Venderley? There’s a frood who really knows where his phone is.”

Not sure — what do you think? Is your phone your equivalent of Douglas Adams’ towel (or is it the equivalent of Adams’ digital watch?)? Or would something else fit the galactic hitchhiker’s admiring phrase?


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