After having seen the animation film Despicable Me, I was enchanted by little Agnes who got a pet unicorn at the fair, and ecstatically exclaimed: ‘It’s so fluffy, I’m gonna die!’
Immediately, I downloaded the ringtone and so it happened that every time I was called, my phone belched: “It’s so fluffeeeey!! It’s so fluffeeeey!!!” The tone, incidentally, was a variation on the movie scene, and more of a hoarse bawl than a cute observation of a lovable fact. It certainly raised a few eyebrows, especially when I was phoned during a meeting or when in public transport. People kept asking me what it ‘said’, my phone, and I seemed to be the only one getting the joke when explaining.

                It wasn’t until I was at the seaside for a few days, writing a book with a friend, that my eyes were opened to something strange regarding my ringtone. Picture the two of us, sitting at a table, writing and discussing. Intermittently, my phone squealed its fluffiness and I excused myself hastily to go outside and troubleshoot something or other that was going on at work. At some point, my friend asked me why I didn’t simply shut it off, and I gave him some lame excuse of having to coordinate just a few last things before we could finally start our writing. They were all essential things, things that really couldn’t wait. He is a good-natured guy, my friend, and he accepted all the interruptions charitably. However, he did note, quite matter-of-factly, that there seemed to be a discrepancy between what the phone ‘said’ and how it said it. That got me thinking. Why this discrepancy?

                So, let’s agree that my life should be one big fluffy unicorn. Happily married, established as a scientist, great job, surrounded by ambitious and interesting people, lots to learn, lots to do. In general, my way has always been to take on new chores and opportunities, as many as I could, eager to learn, fascinated by everything. I still do it, and I like it. It’s who I am. I juggle responsibilities, am quick to switch between tasks and I wish, as a genuine Harry Potter fan, that it were possible to disapparate between meetings to save me some time. Now, I say this is me. And it’s certainly part of me. But there’s more to me. I remember the little boy me, who spent hours reading, drawing comics, walking alone outside, pondering. He didn’t juggle a thing. And sometimes, all of a sudden, I miss ‘mini me’. Where did he go in the midst of all this turmoil? Has ‘mini me’ been replaced completely by ‘speedy me’? Can he come back sometimes and take me by the hand to show that there actually is a beautiful world out there, very fluffy indeed and full of wonder, and remind me that this was what I had started out looking for to begin with: wonder? Because sometimes I tend to forget what I was looking for. I’m just too busy juggling stuff.

                A modern day scientist is a businessman of sorts. He owns a shop, which he decorates, supplies, and runs. He’s got customers and they need to be tended to. His ware has to be better than his neighbor’s, or cheaper, or both. He knows about finances and PR. And so he sees to it that he has something to show for himself when the accountant drops by at the end of the year. In many ways, that image is very different from the image in Einstein’s day, let alone Descartes’ day, or Aristotle’s. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Times change. The world has changed. Different times, different measures. I can only observe that I, as a modern-day scientist, have a ringtone that roars, with a vengeance, that the world is fluffy. And I presume that something is off. Now what, exactly, is off? Is the world not so fluffy after all? As said, it should be. No reason not to be. None whatever. But, hey, why then did the cuteness vanish from my ringtone? Is Freud stirring in his grave? Is my subconscious trying to tell me something?

                I guess part of the answer came to me directly, there at the seaside, writing our book. I love writing books. I love reading them, too. I love to think, research and wonder. To marvel at the world. But I rarely have time to do it. I hear this all the time, from my colleagues, from my staff, from my students even. Something is off. We don’t make time for that which defines us as scientists. We do that to ourselves and to each other. As a result, the cuteness vanishes from our lives, and we start to scream. Even if ever so subconsciously, and through our phones rather than through our actual mouths. It was a good realization. A useful one. I switched off my phone that weekend, and finished the book. And I swapped my restless ringtone for a calmly hooting night owl.