Friday, September 7, 2012

Turn on Future Street

After more than twenty years of marriage Himself and I have a list of subjects we know better than to talk about. I usually don't broach these topics here at Casamurphy either. Knowing the political predilections of most of the mutual friends who read this, I protect Himself from their censure. However, because it is a good illustration of our half empty/half full dichotomy, I will provide a single example. I am watching a program about the ease with which automatic weapons can be purchased from unlicensed dealers at gun shows and the attenuate carnage that results when these guns are smuggled into Mexico. Himself has sequestered himself in his office during the recent heatwave. It is the coolest room in the house and as it is the end of his teaching quarter he has legitimate reason to hole up there. I guess a squabble is better than no attention at all so when he comes up for a snack, anticipating the response, I posit, “You don't really give a rat's ass about gun control, do you?”

I get the answer I expect. The culture is just too far gone. It won't make a difference. Outlawing weapons will just lead to a greater black market and probably even exacerbate the violence. I relent that this may be the short term result. But, I add that, despite the immediate consequences, at least giving lip service to getting automatic weapons out of distribution might serve to shape a vision for future generations. European countries with strict gun control laws experience far less violence than we do in the U.S. It's not like they don't have their own blood soaked histories, but a conscious decision was made to change the mindset a generation ago and it worked. He shrugs, finishes a tangerine and skulks back to the basement. He knows that his pessimism keeps me on my toes and that he'd actually hate it if my outlook were as dark as his own.

Bored, with the kids at the FYF festival and Himself sequestered in his office, I accompany a friend to see Robot and Frank Coincidentally, this film, as well as two novels I'm reading, “Arcadia” by Lauren Groff and “True Believers” by Kurt Anderson are all set in the not very distant future. All three works are too character driven fall into the category of speculative fiction but there are hints about what the world might be like a few years down the pike. In Arcadia, a character stricken with ALS uses a device that can simulate speech based on the movement of her eyes. In Robot and Frank, a robot replaces a home health care assistant. Both of these technologies are actually in development now and these fictions suggest how life improving these and other technological advances will likely become.

The two novels and the film also suggest that our dependence on technology will compromise the quality of human interaction. Himself would be all over this. Plus throw in invasion of privacy, identity theft and cyber-warfare. As stoked as I am about the promise of the new I admit I'm sometimes disturbed to find myself forgetting that Siri is not a real person. And when I ask her to find a nearby Von's Market the stupid bitch keeps trying to direct me to a bail bondsman.

My dad caressed his infant grandson's head and whispered, “I wonder what you will see in your lifetime.” The kids are totally nonplussed by advances in technology. My boys don't want to hear about black and white TVs and only seven channels. They mistakenly read a subtext of criticism, and complaint about how much easier they have it, into my awe at the modern world. In truth, I don't think they really have it that much easier. The economy was more stable when I was their age. Himself and I both applied to a single college to which we were accepted and subsequently attended. Now the stakes seem way higher and the process requires spread sheets and professional intervention. Our college educations pretty much guaranteed us work of some sort. My kids' educations insure them nothing but debt.

When there was nothing I liked on TV, I was too lazy to go outside and didn't have anything I felt like reading I was, for better or worse, alone with my thoughts. I complained about being bored all the time. My cousin and I had an exchange that was so frequent it became a comedy routine. “Whaddaya wanna do?” “I dunno. Whaddaya wanna do?” With so much stimulation available on immediate demand I don't remember either of my kids ever whining about boredom. They do have social interactions but don't have to aggressively seek them out because they connect via social media and have infinite entertainment options. Are they ever, I wonder, just lost in their own thoughts?

Given the polarity of their folks, my kids are coming up in the best of times and the worst of times. I think that ultimately technology will make the world a better place. Himself sees Armageddon around every corner. Like my dad, I wonder what the kids will see in their lifetimes. I worry for them. We both do. But our divided partnership is united in our sureness that no matter what, our kids are good. This fills us both with optimism. I drive down Cypress Avenue and need to cut over to San Fernando before it turns into Eagle Rock Blvd. There are two streets where it is easy to turn. One is Division and the other is Future. Division is a little quicker but I always choose Future.

1 comment:

FionnchĂș said...

Or you could choose Chaucer and Gay Streets in the same stretch as Future, or Ulysses within walking distance of Casa Murphy! The kids have the coolest room in the house, not me, but I admit I need to hole up. The heat makes me pricklier than usual, which is saying something. Taffy is nearby.

I went on the way to the dentist to fill the tank at a slightly cheaper station. I noticed the moms (or grandmas, given stick figures and such in the windows) in giant SUVs and pickups and I wondered as I watched the tally rise how they let alone I could afford it. One woman had around each arm a frilly fabric sleeve apart from her t-shirt. What's with that? The world puzzles me.

I then drove to the South Pasadena Library, an oasis of cool air and lots of titles that despite some new ones feel like they've been on the shelf decades, more than most libraries. A few novels from the time before our birth remain in those old rebound and painted-on retitled spines that now feel like "Look in the Answer Book" of old (as in our childhood.) They speak to us of a more literate time at least for a few, and the tastes of generations now changed by the Chinese immigrants who speak on cellphones in the stacks, tap away on computers outside and inside, in the park and at the carrels, but appear (unless children with parents) not to check out many books. They study, or sleep....

Older, rumpled folks of the various grab bag of identifiable or otherwise origins familiar to all Californians, slumber in chairs and can be sensed for olfactory reasons before they are seen. They read, but fall asleep over their magazines and newspapers. Do they portend us, a few decades on, the final readers of print in a age of e-books and virtual entertainment? Today, Amazon unveiled 7 new tablet types.

I then--nobody in line and at first no librarian around-- checked out my novel for Hawai'i (I ponder such choices; I could buy it for a Kindle but feel that $15 is not worth what I can find gratis) and went to the dentist. I like to look at "National Geographic," but it's not the same as when I was a child. Bigger type, fewer articles. Opened up "The Economist" as usual: 12-page feature on Jews and Judaism (recommended from 7-28-12 btw).

Inside, I learn in another article that Penguin is angry at Amazon who cooperates with OverDrive to corner the market for Kindle and checkout of e-books. And they don't give you more than 21 days to read anything, you must wait for it behind others, and it cannot be renewed! Competing formats see that Amazon wants to dominate the field. With so few titles on Kindle, ironically, I go to the library to find them there. Old mingles with the new, for now.

Someday our kids may read these entries in whatever format survives, and they may tell their children of this ancient medium. Consider these, invisible offspring, a wave to what's ahead. Shabbat shalom to all who find this, now and in the future xxx me