Monday, October 11, 2010

Controlling Connections, Freakishly

I've been somewhat out of touch with the wider world recently; it's an inescapble fact that comes with my setting down new roots here in New West. My landline telephone service won't go active for another couple of days yet, and it'll be about another week before my internet service goes live - until then, it's purely through wi-fi at Starbucks and the public library. I won't say it leaves me floundering, as there's a lot that goes into setting up a new place that the internet is merely a distraction for.

Making sure that you've got a can opener kicking around is a pretty big one.

It may be that need to go out and find a connection, rather than having one available at home whenever I need it, that amplified my reaction to Douglas Coupland's recent article in The Globe and Mail, "A radical pessimist's guide to the next 10 years." Much of it is what you'd expect, given the situation in which we find ourselves: a disappearing middle class, a world made smaller from resource shocks and oil crunches, and so on. Buried within it is one particular prediction that doesn't deal with either of these: instead it looks at one of the key factors of science fiction, how technology influences society.

33) People who shun new technologies will be viewed as passive-aggressive control freaks trying to rope people into their world, much like vegetarian teenage girls in the early 1980s

1980: “We can't go to that restaurant. Karen's vegetarian and it doesn't have anything for her.”

2010: “What restaurant are we going to? I don't know. Karen was supposed to tell me, but she doesn't have a cell, so I can't ask her. I'm sick of her crazy control-freak behaviour. Let's go someplace else and not tell her where.”

For one, I find it difficult to believe that there were restaurants in 1980 that did not sell anything that wasn't once part of an animal, but that's neither here nor there, and for that matter in 1980 neither was I. What bothers me is the assumptions behind Coupland's prediction number thirty-three, and the worry that he might be right on that account.

Yes, it's still got usefulness in it today. No reason to look surprised.

I've probably brought it up time and again on this weblog, but once more for the record - I do not own a mobile phone, nor have I ever. That likely puts me in something like a 1% minority of the population in my age bracket, and if I continue living like this I will increasingly look like an out-of-step luddite. I'm well aware of that, and I accept it.

What I don't accept is the prospect of mobile phones twisting the culture to such an extent that I'm demonized because of a simple choice to do without. I mean, look at the example above. Karen is a control freak because she does not have a cell, thus requiring the party to - gasp - decide on a plan of action before embarking on it, rather than just going from the seats of their pants? To my mind, that's the opposite of such behavior; shouldn't a control freak love always being in command of every particular of the situation, being able to change it at a moment's notice if it fits their fancy? Or am I completely misreading the situation in general?

Just because a new technology, or a widely-used one, can change cultural standards is not a reason why it should: what I get from this prediction of Coupland's is concern that forward-thinking might, by and by, filter out of the average person's consciousness - after all, why plan ahead when things can be made on the go?

I don't think I like the routes that might take us down. One could argue that we're standing where we are today precisely because of decisions that were made on the fly, with no time spared for planning and without regard for the future.

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