We have quite the little construction boom going on in Wellington, Ontario. Over in the west end, a new dental centre is going up on Prince Edward Drive. A new restaurant qua LCBO complex has started on Main Street. In the east end, workers are busy erecting a greenhouse at Blooms on West Lake. In the centre of town, work seems to be charging ahead on the somewhat-less, Devonshire Inn, somewhat-more Drake Hotel.
The sleeper construction project for my money is the new illuminated sign in front of the United Church. The sign - facing a logical east/west rather than north/south - brightly informs us of the Church and its minister, Steve Spicer. What intrigues me is that the sign contains a built-in digital noticeboard, which, at least at the time of this writing, just flashes out a very tasteful and low-key ‘period’ symbol. In the very near future, it will provide a running text, as we see on the sign outside the new Dukedome controlled by a local computer.
I lie awake wondering what that running text will state.
Most obviously, it will announce funerals. There’s a problem, of course, if a death occurs on, say, a Wednesday, and a funeral on, say, a Saturday, it can’t publish in any of our weekly papers on a timely enough basis. Admittedly, the jungle telegraph works surprisingly well, but the signboard will be timely.
Obviously, the Church will want to use its signboard to promote Church events. I for one would be upset if it didn’t constantly remind me of an upcoming chicken and biscuits luncheon. I’m stupid enough to forget to write dates down or to write them down on that piece of paper I put somewhere clever, but can’t say where or to write them down in hieroglyphics and then toss the paper out in disgust because I’ve got no idea what the note was about.
Venturing a tiny bit further afield, the next most obvious use is to display those short, thoughtful and humorous expressions that churches like to put on their low tech, wheel away signboards. You know, “Jesus: much more than the beard and sandals”; or “God, the really big picture guy”’; or “Heaven: all loafin’ and fishin,’ all the time” and that sort of thing.
Here’s where you begin to encounter problems. Anything controlled by computer we expect to be up to the minute. Just as we know how tedious it must be to take down an old technology signboard letter by letter, we know how easy it is to refresh a text message. If people see the same message for three or four days, they’ll think to themselves, “Can’t these religion people come up with something a little newer?” In other words, if you go high tech, you have to step up your game.
According to the Reverend Steve, the signboard is also there to inform about other events going on in the community. That will pose a few problems, too. If the Anglican Church across the street is holding a bake sale at the same time as that chicken and biscuits lunch, can it advertise the event? If so, should it contribute to the cost of the sign the United Church paid for? How far must ecumenical benevolence extend?
What about people who want to post a sign that says something like “The old rooster turns 60: congratulations Wayne”? Would posting a message like that be lowering the tone? Will there have to be minimum age limit imposed on messages of felicitation? Will there be one standard for parishioners and another for non-parishioners?
All these minor ethical dilemmas and one digital noticeboard: makes me glad I’m not the sign master.
I should stop thinking about the awkward possibilities and be positive. Perhaps local businesses will want to advertise on the board, and it will both keep the community up to date and generate revenue for the Church. Perhaps its success will lead other properties in the commercial zone to follow suit with illuminated noticeboards of their own, so that before long you won’t know whether you’re standing at the corner of Wharf and Main or in Times Square. Perhaps MuchMusic will decide it simply has to have its studios down where the action is, and suddenly everyone walking the streets will have orange hair and body ornamentation, which will be a good thing.
I guess, if the end of the world really does become nigh and the sign master is on his or her game, we’ll find out in real time; which will allow us to put our affairs in order and probably result in a land office business for the Church, thereby justifying its investment in the digital noticeboard many times over. I say amen to that.
Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.
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