When Ron Swanson talks, you listen. Especially when he’s the least likely person to probably ever come to CES. That’s why I made a point to circle up with esteemed author, mustache manifestor, woodworker, performer, and television star Nick Offerman on the first day of America’s top technology extravaganza. Offerman came to Vegas to promote the 111-year-old company American Greetings (also an unlikely fit for CES) for a PR campaign celebrating the ultra-unwired, hands-needed greeting card — aka A Device Like No Other.
It’s a perfect fit, actually.
I caught up with Offerman inside the American Greetings tent to discuss all things technology, including this year’s CES show and why texting emojis is not a replacement for the handwritten note. There were plenty of masturbation references. It was my favorite interview at CES, by far.
I wouldn’t think Ron Swanson would care so much about CES, so what brings you here?
I honestly wouldn’t come here. I appreciate technology very much in my life, but I don’t indulge in it. I depend on all the great new technological systems, but I rely on people much smarter than me to tell me what I need to upgrade to for each passing year.
So, not a huge fan of the Interwebs then?
It occurred to me the other day, I haven’t spent any leisurely time on the Internet in a long time. And I could all day. I could go to cabin porn dot com and just look at sexy sun-dappled cabins for hours on end. Whether or not I’m pleasuring myself is my own business. It’s between me and Edward Snowden.
What is “A Device Like No Other?”
I’ve been invited here by American Greetings for this hilarious gag of unveiling the greeting card at a tech festival. I’m incredibly flattered by it… it’s very much in line with my own philosophy of every gesture in our lives is an opportunity to tell other people that we love them. And a greeting card, that’s really what it is.
A lot of our readers probably don’t know what a greeting card is, please explain how you use one.
What we have is approximately a 7-by-12-inch piece of cardboard that’s been folded in half, long ways, to create what’s known as a card in colloquial terms. And on front of it has been printed an image of some words in gold ink that say “Working Really Hard in Vegas” exclamation point.
You open up this card, there’s some cute graphic design down one edge, but the rest is blank. So what you do is take a writing utensil, I carry a Sharpee on me, I’m a writer… I’m writing “Dear Uproxx, What Happens at CES is recorded for eternity.” Heart, which denotes the love I mentioned earlier. Nick Offerman.
Now this is a document, an artifact, that expresses that sentiment, despite the fact that we’re in Vegas where what happens is usually considered to stay here.
Does anything really stay in Vegas, though, at this point?
I don’t know, it’s been years since I got up to any malfeasance in town. I’m not the one to ask. I’m happily married.
On a scale of lots of fucks to zero fucks, what would you classify your concern with emerging technologies such as wearables or drones?
I guess it would be about a middling amount of fucks that I give. I would like to disregard them, but I am interested in the human race and those technologies have a profound effect on the human race and whether or not we’ll destroy this planet or preserve it, which is something I’m also interested in. Particularly the preservation side of things.
I feel like for every great new technology, there’s usually one or two profound uses that do us a lot of good. Then there are a multitude of masturbatory uses and it’s up to all of us to masturbate in a moderate amount. That’s been the rule for masturbation since Adam and Steve showed up.
I feel like you’re the voice of reason when it comes to what America needs… and what it does not. Can you give an example of something you’ve seen at CES that’s a great invention? And something that’s the masturbatory maximum?
You’d have to define ‘great’ a little more specifically because almost everything in there is astonishing. I’ve seen a toothbrush that takes a picture inside your mouth while you use it, which is a bummer if you like to put people’s toothbrushes up your butt.
There are robots, drones, self-driving vehicles… here’s the thing, the older the vehicle, the more I like to drive it. I like to drive like it’s a wrestling match. It’s something I take a great deal of pleasure in, having grown up in a farm family and I associate that with my adulthood or my manhood. I can take any vehicle and safely loco-mote it to another location, often with a properly tied down load. So, I don’t want anyone doing that for me… it’s pleasurable.
At the same time, I understand that self-driving technology does have a lot of great safety features. I live in Los Angeles where a great many drivers really need some god damn help keeping it between the ditches. That’s why I’m not the best person to be here, it kind of scares me in an Orwellian way to see where we’re going… but I like to have it filtered by outfits like your own to say ‘Okay, these are the pros and cons.’ Drones in domestic use upset me, I don’t want anything else in the airspace, you know, unless it’s for target practice.
Which do you prefer, virtual reality or just reality?
Reality. I think virtual reality will have amazing uses particularly in medicine… when I was a teenager, I was as apeshit for Galaga and Frogger as the next guy. So, if you put me back in those shoes and give me virtual reality A) Yes, please, I’m amazed… I’ll live in it, but B) I’d be terrified of my ability to not become addicted to it and waste my life sunk in virtual reality. I’ve lost solid chunks of my life over the years to video games. And it was a great lesson, just like using narcotics. I was able to sample them and say “Okay, I understand why you could throw your life away on these products, and I’m going to choose not to.”
I’m glad I have the wherewithal to do that. But I wouldn’t trust myself with a video game that could place me virtually in the shire being served a beer at the Prancing Pony.
Does the robot have a role in the woodworker’s shop?
Not yet. We are specifically an artisanal, handmade shop. So we actually have a rule: No robots. But the things that you can do with CNC (Computer Numerical Control) technology, laser cutters and 3D printers are amazing. They just don’t fit into our aesthetic.
If it’s raining out, and I’m wearing a tuxedo, then I’m glad I have AAA and they’ll come change my tire. But if it’s not raining, and I’m wearing my usual clothes, I take a great deal of pleasure in changing a flat tire because I feel like a superhero to be able to affect the world around me without having to depend on anyone else.
On Parks & Rec, Ron Swanson was the moral compass of the show. Do the people creating cutting-edge robots have a moral responsibility not to fuck with certain things?
Anyone creating any new technology has that responsibility. Anybody creating a product for our fellow men and women, whether it’s a cutting board in my shop or a robot, we are tasked by Mother Nature, in my opinion, to use our powers for good.
That’s why fast food restaurants are considered nefarious because it’s held that they use much worse ingredients than they should because they’re trying to make a profit more than they’re trying to create a healthy eating experience. I think it’s perfectly analogous with robots. I can’t off the top of my head imagine what the nefarious uses may be, unless they’re like assassin robots or infidelity robots, which I’m not sure how that would work. You send a sexy robot to bust a husband with a wandering eye… I don’t know.
I think the world is a better place if we can all focus on expressing our love for one another more than focusing on making money.
What does handwriting do that a text can’t?
These days, with texting being so prevalent, it’s really become sort of an incantation or magic spell. It’s using an ancient technology – handwriting – to impart your personality and thoughts and wishes, warts and all. If you misspell something handwritten, that’s part of your personality, it has nothing to do with spellcheck. In my shop, and in my house, your handwriting is an expression of how much you give a shit.
If we let digital home assistants like Echo, Alexa, and Google Home do everything for us, is it feasible humans will start to de-evolve?
I’m considered some sort of macho, wood-chopping bloke, but I’m very aware of how much softer I am than my ancestors, even my parents’ generation because they didn’t have air conditioning (I didn’t have it as a kid) or even power steering. All these things that have become old technology are consistently making us less good at surviving.
In a way, writing a card is like an homage to the opposable thumb that our ancestors grew for us, to not let it go to waste.
I understand a lot of schools have quit teaching handwriting, which is terrifying. It has a homogenizing effect that we’re all just going to become the same phrasing and set of emojis, rather than having any personality or craftsmanship.
What if there was robot tech that could actually trim a mustache or beard, would you use it?
I would not, for many reasons. But specifically because I don’t ever trim my mustache and beard. And also because I am not really interested in personal grooming beyond cleanliness but if I were, I would by god take care of it myself.
For the final part here, I’m going to name a series of technologies at this year’s CES show. Please give your quick impressions of what you think… Here we go.
I have interacted with it and apparently there is something to be said for the levitating tweeter sitting over the woofer base, not vibrating. But I just wanted to go after it with a hockey stick. It looks like a floating puck.
Automated fishing device that catches fish for you while you kick back on deck…
A fridge cam that identifies expired products…
A concept car that actually feels “human emotion”…
Bullshit. Give me a three on the tree.
Automatic laundry fluffer and folder…
A toothbrush that actually records your daily brushings…
There’s some medical value to that, but I like to put my friend’s toothbrushes up my butt and I’m not interested in that being photographed.
An app that can identify digitized smells…
That can be valuable. Don’t bring it too close to me.
Self-cleaning cat litter dispenser…
That sounds like the most valuable technology you’ve named so far.
The world’s first vibrating tight cut jeans…
Listen, far be it for me to deny a woman her pleasure, however she may come about deriving it.
An app that tests male fertility… would Ron Swanson ever use that?
For Ron Swanson, I think it would probably crash if used on him… There’s a lot of good to be known in the realm of male fertility, so I’ll give that a thumb up. I have a technique for testing male fertility, by the way, but it’s expensive and impolite.
(*He said that last part off-camera.)