The Evolution of the Rear View Mirror

I once worked at a place where, shall we say, the politics were byzantine. I would joke with friends that I had a rear view mirror on my computer so I could see who was coming up from behind to stab me in the back.

Flashback to 1983 when I was in Buenos Aires, Argentina on business and was invited to the estancia of a local celebrity for dinner. My companion and I were seated with about ten others at a long, antique, wooden table. It was obviously a very old table. Curiously, the wall side of the table was in poor condition being severely scarred by deep cuts in the table top. I found it odd that our distinguished host would display furniture so damaged as everything else was in elegant taste.

I asked about the history of this unusual table and our host told me it came from England and had been in his family for hundreds of years. He said it came from the castle of some nobleman of the time. The cuts in the table were due to the fact that in those days they didn’t eat from plates (there were no plates) but all cut their meat and ate directly off the table. Forks hadn’t been invented yet either. Think of the money they saved on dish soap!

This table was larger than would fit anywhere in most people’s homes, even today. Back then, to only use half of it must have been quite a luxury.

Anticipating my next question he explained that in those coarse days, hosts and guests always sat with their backs to the wall, not wanting to be vulnerable to assassins. Even in the best of houses one never knew what servant might have been bribed to dispose of an unwitting visitor. And the poor rube didn’t even have a shiny plate with which to view his approaching doom. The typical serf didn’t often have house guests but one never knew who might cross the threshold at the local nobleman’s manse. And I thought my office politics were brutal.

As he spoke with his back to the wall I realized I was listening with my back exposed to the room. I became keenly aware of a draft and reflexively turned to the serving woman to assess her willingness and ability to slip a shiv into my back. She seemed oblivious to the conversation. If she had such designs, they were not on me.

The conversation turned to lighter topics and the meal was delicious.

Then a few years later I was at a job fair and one of the give-a-ways from one vendor was a spherical mirror for the computer monitor so you could see who was coming up behind you…

Amazing! Not only was I not alone in these feelings but someone actually took the initiative to fill this curious niche and produced the very thing I joked about having. Innovation lives on! Of course I grabbed one even though I didn’t need it anymore.

Thankfully, modern humans have evolved beyond those dark, Hobbesian days of tooth and claw where those without a friend were dispatched via a shining blade. Now such matters are handled more adroitly with a sharp tongue, or a pink slip.

Rear view mirrors are now an amusing novelty with no practical purpose.

Or are they?

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