The world is a strange place, now. I’m pretty sure it’s stranger now for me, and the differences more profound between me and my father, than it was for my father, and between him and his.
If that convoluted sentence has confused you, allow me to elaborate:
When I was a child, our TV had four stations and our phone was plugged into the wall. America was the land of plenty, where kids were given ten, fifteen dollars by their parents to go out and visit the mall, where they would buy the latest fashions and still have the change left over for a soda. And then, slowly – so slowly that one didn’t notice – things changed.
We got a fifth channel on the telly. I even got my own television (and video recorder). We got a computer. Eventually, we even got a modem and got on the internet at the blistering speed of 33.6kbps (it was a 56kbps modem, but I don’t know that they ever reached that speed – I believe the fastest I’d ever seen an analog modem reach was 48kbps, on a good day). Shortly after becoming 18, I moved out – very far out. I may elaborate on that later, but let’s just say, a really long way.
I used the internet to connect to my folks at home. I also increasingly used it to connect to people all across the planet. I even bought a cellphone – a 2G Nokia 1610.
The years turned and changed some more, and we ditched the landline phone. We haven’t had a phone at home for well over a decade by now. I personally own about four smartphones (though I use only one), my wife has at least two phone numbers all to herself. Our kids have mobile phones. Our house, which is wired with cat-6, is mostly online through g-class wifi (it’s n-compatible, but n- is a bit flaky still). In actual fact, I regularly use a 3G stick in my laptop(s) to connect to the internet. And my home internet is 12Mbps down and about 0.6Mbps up – thousands of times faster than that old modem.
This is where the generation gap is most palpable. I have friends all across the planet, and they’re pretty good friends. Sure, I can’t go around to theirs for pizza, but we do watch movies online together and snark about them over snacks, which is pretty much the same thing. My friendship – and my life – is global. Sure, I visit with friends offline too (and everyone should), but it’s normal to have buddies on other continents. It’s normal to buy stuff online and have it shipped from another country (it’s also better value, in my case – I bought a set of adapters for a monitor, where it cost less for ten plus shipping than it would for one locally).
I’m not calling my parents old fashioned, nor disparaging them in any way, but my dad uses a checkbook. I pay all my bills online.
And meanwhile, folks in the USA don’t even have healthcare that works, are getting turfed out of homes they can’t afford because they managed to get mortgages on the back of the completely screwy idea that they could get a new mortgage next month when the house price went up, and are enjoying the fruits of their society’s push for globalization as jobs move offshore to cheaper countries (just like the USA used to be) – only without the social safety net that is simultaneously the bane and boon of living in Europe. Seriously, in the USA, there are whole families that are living in broken-down cars under bridges, homeless. You don’t see that in Europe; despite the general malaise and poverty, we have standards of human rights and dignity.
Don’t get me wrong, the USA is full of wonderful people. But the government sucks. The fact that the current government – which is right wing enough that it hurts – is considered practically communist by the so-far-right-they’ve-gone-round-the-bend right-right wing of America, is astonishing. The current president is lightyears ahead of the previous one, he’s practically a saint, and yet this is the president which has considered drone strikes on home soil, has kept up with and expanded the complete abandonment of habeas corpus and is still playing Team America: World Police.
I shudder to think, seriously, what the alternative would be like. It’s so wrong it’s almost unbearable. In short, large swathes of the once promised land are essentially third world ghettos – a joke which is so true it’s not even funny any more.
But to get away from my ranting (I’ll do a better piece on just what the fuck is wrong with Western Democracy another time), the world has changed in many ways almost beyond recognition since I was a child. So much so that when my kids saw a rotary-style phone, they asked whether it was plugged into the wall to charge the batteries, how the screen was hooked up (did you plug it into the television?) and how the buttons were pressed. They and their peers watch youtube celebrities, dance to the latest weird online fads and watch and listen to media from all over the planet. They can’t conceive of having a life where their entire circle of friends and their vistas end within the borders of the country they grew up in, or that they would have to live and work within spitting distance of their childhood home.
And that’s awesome, because the full richness of humanity can only reach its peak when we are all exposed to and taught to cherish life and the freedom to express it in all its forms.
Where that falls down – the short-sighted PC crowd – is something I’ll write about another day.