Thirty-Three Years In
After a number of months, I e-mailed a good friend of mine from back in’t day. I was inspired to write a piece on the current state of affairs by a post he published on Reddit regarding cryptocurrency and the sign of the times. It made me think of days on by – when we were kids and oozed optimism. Back when all we cared about was running round the woods by our school, in an evolved game of hide and seek; pretending to be ‘Predator’ whilst the others hid. Riding our bikes round the ‘schemes’ and making prank phone calls to 192 (directory enquiries). It’s crazy to think how things have changed over the last couple of decades. Even crazier to think of how some things haven’t changed at all.
As a kid, I remember the news coverage of the Gulf War and the terrorist activities of the IRA, Saddam Hussein and the like. Now, the same sort of shit is going on but just different names and different faces. The technology has evolved but the fundamentals are the same. We’re fucked. One way or another we will die. Nuclear holocaust, nail bombs, cancer, high school shooting, acid attack, plane crash, exploding mobile phone, heart disease, STD…the list is almost endless.
In the formative years, we learn to rationalise and categorise. We learn to measure and value. We learn to sort and decipher. It’s bizarre then, that as I grow older things make less sense. Things become harder to measure and value, to sort and decipher. Rationality goes out the window and chaos moves in. A midnight flit in which chaos squats in the former residence of logic.
As terror alerts heighten and relax, tempers fray and restore to normality and as life starts to move on after each catastrophic event, we set ourselves up to fall again and again. The horrors of the world are everywhere. At least when I was a kid, they were limited to newspapers and television. Now, it’s all over social media and random notifications that pop up on my Android devices.
I read an article today regarding the Roseanne reboot in which One Million Moms kicked off about the gender fluidity of a child actor in the show and a quote in which they said, “No child should be introduced to the experience of mental disorders.” Now, gender identity in all its shapes and forms is not a mental disorder but that’s not why I mention this. We have numerous groups who claim to be experts in their respective fields and force their opinions on us. We have misconceptions and falsehoods touted as gospel.
As a parent, I’d much rather my kids experience stories of gender neutrality and acceptance than the stories of acid attacks and explosions close to home. Or farther afield. Either way, the horrors are there and, thanks to the media in all it’s various flavours, whether it’s geographically close or not it’s still too close for comfort.
Growing up, I was fairly sheltered but was always open-minded in that I was accepting for any colour or creed. I may have had the immaturity to mock those that were different in a way that wasn’t malicious and always managed to poke fun at myself in the process. So why is it that me, who is from a small town and a time when things weren’t as open as they are now in regards to sexuality and gender identity, that I am accepting of the changes and gladly welcome them when there are those who are around people of different races and ethnicity, different sexual persuasion and whatnot and they can’t seem to get over their prejudices? Why even have the prejudices in the first place? What put them there? Where was it learned from?
I often ponder what life would be like as a kid now. What would it be like to have the technology and toys and gadgets and all that this current time period has to offer if I were able to grow up now? In a lot of ways I envy the kids these days – amazing games consoles, phones, toys and freedoms granted through various bodies of human rights etc. But then I think how lucky I was to be born in the eighties. Cartoons were so much better. Toys were better quality. Games were addictive and required a level of skill that doesn’t seem to exist nowadays. But we had actual freedoms.
We never worried about strangers (we’d be warned not to talk to them but I don’t recall any issues/incidents), we would be out until eight or nine o’clock and we experienced adventure. Climbing trees, building dens, play-fighting, crafting makeshift weapons like swords and shields…back then, we actually grew up rather than kids now – they just seem to age. The life skills and experience just aren’t there any more.
At age six, I’d be chopping logs for the fire, preparing and lighting the fire, carting coal bags on my back to fill the scuttle in order to keep the fire going into the night – probably the only experience that was worthwhile from staying with my Dad. Back then, we worked to achieve any sense of accomplishment. It makes me sound old but that was less than twenty years ago. Times changed and coal fires are pretty much non-existent. Nothing beat the smell of the chimney reek.
Now, it’s all virtual experience. My kids chopping trees in Minecraft and building in LEGO Worlds. Even money is becoming virtual. I rarely carry cash on me – not because I’m skint but because I very rarely have any need for it. Most of my purchases are online. If they’re not, I’ll use by debit/credit card. I haven’t bought into the contactless payment as yet but it’s a matter of time before it becomes a mandatory thing. I remember, as a kid, seeing sci-fi movies and shows and the concept of contactless payment through a chip in your hand. Then, those things seemed so far-fetched. Not now.
Technology is taking over and it’s a weird feeling. I feel that my generation was the last hybrid generation – the analog/digital revolutionaries who knew the best of both. The ones that remember VHS and then the release of DVDs and then the war between HD DVD and Blu-ray that was as short-lived as it was triumphant. A generation that applauded the addition of a fifth terrestrial TV channel (Channel 5, funnily enough). A generation that saw the face of gambling change forever when the National Lottery was born.
Things like phone boxes then dwindled to nothingness, age-old shops closed and the high streets became desolate until government regeneration programs started and the online revolution truly began. An ethereal playing field of massive scope and potential, which gradually became policed to the point that we are just drones taking obligatory food snaps in the hope that social media makes us feel validated thanks to a little thumbs up icon or a heart. An era that is as vain as it is whiny and needy.
As a teenage boy, validity came in the sense of maturity and physical presence. Now, validity is a case of how many followers or virtual friends one has. We have replaced substance with nothing. Yet, somehow, the nothing creates something. Subscribers and followers allow for material goods like houses, cars, watches…
We are on the precipice of another game-changer. Artificial Intelligence. Augmented Reality. Virtual Reality. Growing up has allowed me the opportunity to see the possibilities if it all goes wrong – from Lawnmower Man to The Terminator, the future that seemed so far off has become real in my lifetime. The very idea of being able to see someone whilst talking to them when you’re hundreds of miles apart seemed ridiculous and something ripped out of Star Trek and, for years now, we have had this available in devices that fit into our hands.
Skynet and all that ensued has made me wary of AI in that, who governs it? What assurances do we have should something go awry? I mean, mobile phones randomly send text messages or get stuck in boot loops and develop a mind of their own. If a system that is in full control over your household and, ultimately, your country goes a bit wonky, what happens? You can’t just do a battery pull and give it a few seconds before booting back up. If Margaret from Rotherham clicked on a link in an e-mail that stated she had won the Nigerian Lottery and then found her laptop was riddled with more viruses than an Atlantic City hooker, what protection is there against hacker groups and activists who will try and wrestle control away from an already prying and privacy-devoid government?
At what point do social freedoms stop and become a currency that can be traded in the background of shadow governments and corporations who can have access to all your information in the blink of an eye? Are we destined for a dystopian future like Equilibrium, V For Vendetta, Blade Runner and the likes?
By consuming virtual and physical goods, we perpetuate things further by allowing ‘the system’ to dig its claws in more and more to the point that when we try to give up on the capitalist driven lifestyle seems like complete and utter lunacy. Black Mirror nails these very notions in its near future depictions/predictions of where we are going and there’s no stopping it.
Life; they certainly don’t make it like they used to.