February 2009 Archives

What does it mean to live in the future?

I'm on a train, I have the Internet, and I just banked past a townscape of lights.

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This time down in London I finally got off my arse and went to see a couple of friends of my parents’, David and April, that I hadn’t seen for ages. They’re contemporaries of my parents, and we talked about them for a bit; we also talked about things that were happening in the world (we all like Obama and despise Boris Johnson), and I got to repay their hospitality by troubleshooting April’s problems with the iTunes music store and a voucher she’d been given.

It turned out that she had installed iTunes but never really used the iTunes store, and as such it was set to the default setting, the US. Had she ever tried to buy anything it would have told her off and told her to go the UK store; as she hadn’t, but had gone straight to the “Redeem” link, it merely complained that her magic code didn’t work. Someone was lazy there, and I worked it out partly because it’s my job to identify software failures, but mostly because I’m of the age that understands things like this. We just grok it.

I didn’t have the best of times getting on with my father, most of which I thought to do with the fact that I was a teenager. Certainly I’d have liked to have had time to get to know him as a person, rather than a parent, for at least a few years; he died when I was 18, just as I was starting to realise, to paraphrase only slightly the words of fake Mark Twain, that he wasn’t just some ignorant old git.

David affirmed that he could be in fact be difficult for many people, so I wasn’t alone. I’m not sure whether that was comfort or not (“Congratulations! You too, as his only son, have also failed to break down the barriers!”). Still, we agreed that Bruce’s goal of living a civilised life was a good one; if I have kept that from him, like e.g. his gently chiding remarks of “Can I have some of your wine please?” if the bottle was at the wrong end of the table, I will count myself as having achieved.

To some degree, I’ve lived up to some of his decrees tonight. I got on this train just after half past five, and since then I’ve had a laptop with the Internet (thanks to the company 3G modem) on the table in front of me, except for brief periods at the beginning when they fed me (during which it was on my lap). The only reason the train staff haven’t carried on plying me with a reasonable red wine is that they ran out, so I’m now on the gin and tonic. The fact that I’m travelling in first class paid for by my work might have annoyed him, but maybe not, given how evil the airlines are. I got chatting to this guy Jim behind me who works in health and safety, and then one of the train workers later on, and I congratulated him on being a member of a union who knows what he’s doing, so maybe I would still be in the good books. (Bruce was either allergic or merely deeply hated juniper, though, so the gin and tonic might have been problematic. This is arguably something he should have thought of before moving to a house in France surrounded by woodland suffused with juniper undergrowth, )

Then again, there’s a whole section of the concept of the civilised life that Bruce couldn’t understand. For close to five hours now, I’ve been sitting in a comfortable chair with my own, home, laptop in front of me that does all that I’d expect it to do in an evening. Long gone are the days when I’d have a secondary laptop that I’d use for whenever I travelled, and would then realise that I hadn’t copied everything over exactly, or there were some things it wouldn’t do. Apart from the train moving from side to side and occasionally stopping, and people next to me standing up and getting off the train (and of course no wife and dogs), I could be at home. If it wasn’t for the fact that the occasional vibrations from the train make my laptop lid wobble slightly, I wouldn’t necessarily know I was on a train if I was sufficiently in the zone.

Except this: I look out of the window and I see a small townscape of lights going past. And then we go round a corner, and because this is a Pendolino train, the train banks, and the lights move up, up and away.

And I realise that this is the future, and you make of it what you can.

But still: don’t hog the bottle.