From a brief appreciation of a humble necessity of modern life:
But if the paper clip can be a symbol for endless drudgery, it can also be twisted, pulled apart, and used as a tool. And in this capacity, many of the practices to which it is best suited are the opposite of the commercially productive, sanitary, and morally meaningless act of clipping together papers. Paper clips can be used to pick locks, clean under fingernails, and hack into phones. Straightened out, they are used by office workers to distract themselves from the monotony of their intended use. Nearly every reader of Joshua Ferris’ novel of office life, Then We Came to the End, becomes part of his collective narrator as they read the sentence, “If a stray paper clip happened to be lying around we were likely to bend it out of shape,” and every white-collar underling must find familiar David Foster Wallace’s description of office life in The Pale King: “The way hard deskwork really goes is in jagged little fits and starts, brief intervals of concentration alternated with frequent trips to the men’s room, the drinking fountain, the vending machine, constant visits to the pencil sharpener, phone calls you suddenly feel are imperative to make, rapt intervals of seeing what kinds of shapes you can bend a paperclip into, &c.” The paper clip, which possesses inexpensiveness, interchangeability and consistency, has also been used as a symbol for the numerous: a Tennessee school collected 6 million paper clips to symbolize the Jews killed during the Holocaust, a project documented in a 2004 Miramax film. And its affordability can be a symbol of humble beginnings: In 2005, a Canadian named Kyle McDonald took a red paper clip and began a series of online trades that eventually netted him a house (not to mention a blog, a book, and a lot of public speaking gigs). A philosophical conceit called the “paperclip maximizer” is an artificial intelligence that, programmed by humans solely to manufacture as many paper clips as possible, eventually takes over the Earth and increasing portions of space in its quest for material, leaving trillions of paper clips with no one to use them.