Friday, June 22, 2012

The wonders of technology. If we thought too hard about this it would probably give us vertigo, but isn't it astounding how differently our lives are lived now to even 20 years ago? Sometimes I do get vertigo when I hear a song such as 'Don't Dream It's Over' on the radio, such an ordinary thread in the fabric of my life, and realise that it came out TWENTY-SIX YEARS AGO.

And I am currently reading The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst and finding its great leaps through time confronting, much as I found the leaps through time in A Visit from the Goon Squad confronting. Just when you settle into a character's world, when you feel there, in all its immediacy, feeling what they feel – which is the intellectual conceit novels demand of readers – then the author drags you into the past or the future, to see how small and pitiful these people's lives really are, how helpless they are in the currents of time. At least Jennifer Egan has the grace to present time as the ominous figure of her novel's title.

But anyway, that wasn't what triggered this blog post. It was that I was interviewed by ABC radio this week about bogans (sigh) and the producer asked if there was a landline she could call me on. And I said with a wonderful feeling of freedom, "No, only my mobile."

And I imagined going back in time like some grotesque Ghost of Freelancin' Yet To Come, and telling my teenage self in 1992: "In 20 years there will be no jetpacks, and no space hotels, and well okay, there will be videophones but nobody will really get into them because the best bit of being on the phone is that the person on the other end can't see how you look or what you're doing. But there will be a video-conferencing tool called Skype that we mainly use to talk to people who are on the other side of the world…

"You won't have a home phone, anyway. And the only phone number you'll remember off by heart is your parents' number and maybe one or two of your friends. You'll have a phone that fits in the palm of your hand and is also an address book and a camera and a camcorder and a photo album and a Walkman and an alarm clock and a calendar and a public transport timetable and a book and a Melways. It's also a tiny computer you can use to write and receive letters that get delivered instantly from anywhere, for free, and that can tell you just about any fact you want to know if you know how to look for it.

"And your job in 20 years is going to be to write all day and all night on a tiny laptop that weighs about the same as your maths textbook and is about the same size as your maths folder. You can take it anywhere – a café; a library – and you sit it on the coffee table and watch TV and movies on it.

"Your work will be to write and edit reviews and essays and research reports and advertising copy and lots of little bite-sized blurbs that aren't in newspapers or magazines yet, but that by this time will have come to fill them up because there's so much to read that even when you write 500 words, strangers will just skim it, saying, 'Too long; didn't read it.'

"The only thing that will be the same is that you'll have a cat."

And also: "you will never have need or use for a maths folder or textbook or indeed anything to do with maths and this will please you greatly".

Great piece, Mel.
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