In the US, today is Memorial Day; a day where the nation pauses in solemnity to honor the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
However, outside of the US, May 25 is also a very decorated day. Worldwide, there are numerous celebrations of all things national to novelty. It is Liberation Day in Lebanon, National Day in Argentina, Independence Day in Jordan, and Africa Day in the African Union. There is also Last Bell, National Tap Dance Day, and Geek Pride Day—all of which are held annually on May 25.
There is one other holiday that occurs on May 25 every year. The curious commemoration has been known since 2001 as Towel Day, and celebrates the life and work of writer and tech-culture “patron saint” Douglas Adams. Adams is most notably known for his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series of radio plays, film, television, book trilogy (in five parts), and more.
Throughout the Hitchhiker’s Guide, Adams invents creative, strange and flat-out silly devices and technology for his characters to use. There are Infinite Improbability Drives, Point-of-View Guns, Babel fish, and much more, but the single item praised in Adams’ books more than all others was (wait for it)…a towel.
“A towel, really?” You bet! According to Adams, a towel may be the most singularly useful item in the universe. Read on in this first mention from the book:
“A towel, it 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 vapours; 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 hitchhiker 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."
—Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
If you’re reading this, you likely either have no idea why we’re discussing all of this, or are smiling with recognition.
For the uninitiated:
Computer and tech culture has long been in admiration of Douglas Adams, and for decades have been making references to his work in code, on T-shirts, and over the Internet. The towel has become the symbol of an elegant, utilitarian answer to numerous problems expected and unexpected—the type of scenarios coders find themselves in every day. And while any towel will do, some have even capitalized upon the trend, selling Hitchhiker’s Guide towels for just this reason.
Adams was himself something of a technologist and a forward thinker; he was an early adopter to email, started using a word processor in 1982, created his own USENET group in 1983, and was the very first person to buy a Macintosh in Europe. In 1999, he also wrote an influential editorial on the benefits of the Internet, which has become, in many ways, much like the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that he envisioned years earlier.
So, on this special day, Don’t Panic! Celebrate as you see fit, and remember a great author who will never be forgotten by techs, devs, and coders worldwide. Just remember to always know where your towel is.
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