RIP MS Word Paperclip (1997-2003)


Family, friends, the MS Word Wizard guy who could be substituted in for the paperclip, Vice President Biden:

We gather here today, as we do each year around this time, to mourn the loss of Clippy, the spunky Microsoft Word paperclip advice thing, as well as to dip celery sticks in Ranch dressing and eat them. Clippy was a friend to all, and a good man. Unless he was a woman, in which case, well done and thank you; you were the first girl in school who actually noticed me. Also, the first paperclip.

I first met Clippy in the fall of 1998. It was a simpler time, back when tacos were tacos, Doritos were Doritos, and you could tell the difference. I was in fifth grade, and, for the first time, I received a school assignment for homework that wasn’t simply doing addition or finding old pictures of myself for my teacher’s Smile Board. It was a partner assignment, in which we had to perform original research on what the water cycle is.

My partner and I got a “you rock!” sticker on that assignment, Clippy, and you were a major reason for it. Showing us how to print in color was unbelievably valuable. And teaching us how to access WordArt so we could use the rainbow with shadow font for the title made our project stand out from the rest. Our explanation that water falls as rain and returns to the sky via an elaborate pulley system controlled by Luke Skywalker may have been misguided, but no one seemed to notice — because of you.

When I wrote a like letter to a girl in sixth grade, you were there, assisting me and reminding me that cooties were only a third grade epidemic. That letter was formatted 100% correctly thanks to you, and I maintain to this day that that’s why Stephanie checked the “Yes” box next to “Will you go to the dance with me?” And the “Maybe” box next to “Do you think our teacher lives in the school basement?” We danced together, Clippy, our bodies pressed three feet apart, the slow part of “Stairway to Heaven” blasting in the gym, my hands on the disputed boundary between hip and butt. Man, I wish you could’ve been there.

I tried to tell you about it when I got home, but after a minute of my hesitancy on Word, you sort of uncurled yourself, spun in a spiral, turned into an ellipse, and one of your eyes disappeared for a second. I thought you were having a heart attack. You were just playing around. I told you never to scare me like that again. Then I called my friend Danny on his house phone and asked if I could come over and watch Skinemax.

Like many things, Clippy has passed on, along with the video store and my elastic jean shorts. I’m sorry; I can’t hold back the tears. They were… they were just so elastic.

What I loved about Clippy was his or her resilience, loyalty, and the fact that s/he didn’t judge me when, early in ninth grade, I typed into the box that said “What can I help you with?” the words “My mom buys my boxers still. Is that OK?” Clippy offered encouraging advice and helped me get through thorny adolescent issues like this by asking, “Did you mean: How do I use double-spacing?” You were so right, Clippy; sometimes we have to spread things out, take them slow, and adopt a long-term view.

But the critics were harsh, my bent metal friend. The Times Op-Ed page called you an “out of touch, annoying temporary staple” who was “endemic of a larger trend toward outsourcing cultural capital to paperclips.” Some say that, after the unfavorable response from the computing world, you turned to drink. I’d think the bottle would be the last place an advice paperclip with his whole life ahead of him would end up, but once you drop a large, moving paperclip who can’t swim in a bottle of whiskey, it’s crazy hard to get out. And now I understand why: it’s not so easy to be chipper and helpful when most of your paperclip friends and family are lost in some drawer somewhere, without access to food or sunlight, getting uncomfortably touched by a magnet.

Myths persist that Clippy is still out there, hiding out in the 2001 Compaq Presario in my great aunt’s garage, waiting for the right moment to re-emerge. But we must move on, accept loss, and help each other the best we can in these tough economic times. It’s what Clippy would have wanted.

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