Tag Archives: change

The Technology of Nostalgia

Recently I wrote a whimsical, almost-political rant about change and our aversion to it. Today I refute all my arguments and present to you a people who love change. We chase it, we desire to own it, and with money, we can – I’m talking about our relationship with technology.

The appeal of technology is akin to the seasonal hype that surrounds fashion. Designs and functions are delightfully sprightly and sensitive to our needs (or so we like to think). They are fresh and invigorating when our own lives are dull and tired. Progress and technological genius is rebirth, and stagnancy is death. Through our mobile phones and gadgets, we can see real change.

Even the food we consume is deliberately new and fashionable: from processed snacks like Easy Mac and packeted TimTams to real, modified food like deep fried chips, deep fried anything. It’s like a ‘fuck you’ to the traditional staples of fruit and veg, and it tastes awesome.

At a time in history when information technology development promises a shining future of endless invention and improvement, some people might say that form has begun to take precedence over function. I would argue that having achieved function quite well already, developers have turned to form, to achieve perfection of design. However, this is not to the extent that the product cannot be added on or revised – a concept neatly encapsulated by the term ‘planned obsolescence’. Perfection implies an end point, a finished product that fades to uselessness in the eyes of innovators. Capitalism has no place for perfection – it requires the endless churning out of new products to create the changing demands of consumers. Quite simply, the ideal of simplicity has been replaced by the ideal of the multifunctional. It’s like having your cake and eating it too.

But technology is just another addition in an economic and political system that is by definition unstable, characterised by periodical elections and the bust and boom cycle. We are in continual flux and our material possessions are no different. Daily existence produces much to discard: newspapers, wrappers, lunchboxes, cups, memos, train tickets, cigarettes, batteries, face wipes, take-out chopsticks. The more we have, the more we throw away. Even objects that are not necessarily time-sensitive must be seasonally replaced, like iPhones, cars and laptops.

Facebook is a weird anomaly. Every change they’ve ever made has been met with annoyance if not pure outrage. Having taken a piece of the virtual interface into our personal identities, change that comes from an external source is inevitably a test of the human nature of resistance. But change inevitably wins. Zuckerberg reminds us that the introduction of the Newsfeed (which didn’t exist in the first chapter of Facebook) got everyone riled up, but today it’s where users spend 90 percent of their time.

Perhaps it’s to do with the link between technological change and nostalgia. It shouldn’t confuse anyone if I make a reference to the Nokia phone – everyone’s beloved, outdated wireless mobile device. I contend that everyone’s obsession with the Nokia is in equal parts genuine appreciation and nostalgia. The Nokia phone is a symbol of childhood and the hazy excitement of the technological change in the nineties, bottled in a brick. It harks back to an earlier, irreplaceable era of our lives – not just irreplaceable, but gleefully exclusive. Inaccessible to those born after 2000, the Nokia can never be appreciated by oblivious, tweenage iPhone owners today. Perhaps we desire to carve out an identity for our generation that is meaningful and unique. The Saturday cartoons of childhood, and later a metropolitan culture and education, the privilege of choice – this is our place in history. It belongs to us. We may not have need for the wartime tropes of heroism, sacrifice and servitude, or the activism of rampant political upheaval in the sixties, but we exist here, now, and our priority of choice is quite clearly pleasure. Profit is but a well-tested strategy.

I feel that the culture of technology is a drug. It blunts the edge of the robotic efficiency of our system and the inefficiency of human workers; it is the fruit of our progress since the days of Adam and Eve that unlike the forbidden apple, is most definitely meant for consumption. Technology is a narcotic designed to treat modernity; a painkiller for the diagnosis of historical irrelevance.

Perhaps we are always behind, always catching up in a shifting era. We have commissioned the engineers of the future to build us a bright new era, but when we go to inhabit it we always find ourselves having trouble adjusting. Perhaps we are becoming more like the elderly person we see seated next to the girl with the iPad, a world of difference in knitted sweaters and battery life; anachronistic; out of place.

No matter how great our love for Snake 2, the truth is that we still want the new and the exciting more than the stable – like natural selection, the fashion mantra of technology is Adapt or Die. So buy the iPhone 5. The iPad mini. The Samsung Galaxy SIII, if that’s your preference. Buy it all. One day the children reading the history books will wonder what we contributed to the walk of mankind. And we will have something to give them to oggle at in museums. We will have created the technology touchstone. It was us.

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Never stop changing

Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life

In light of recent events, it seems to me that human nature has braved yet another test.

Throughout history, the natural order of things has been change. We know this because our ancestors had to adapt to survive. Adapt or die. Times pass. Seasons come and go. No single place can look the same given ten or twenty years. Growth and development is the unlocked promise of our DNA. People age and die, and events fall out of relevance and into history books.

So my post-election question is this: are we truly happy, or have we simply grown complacent?

We spend so much time, effort and money trying to preserve the status quo. Obama spent over 2 billion USD worth of campaign funds just to fight for a tomorrow that will be the same as today when we woke up. Senate unchanged, House of Reps unchanged. Business as usual. We listen to centrist skeptics tell us voting for Obama was right because he is the lesser of two evils, and if we hear it enough we might even believe them. But is being the lesser of two evils really the best we can do? If we admit that there are things we don’t like, such as the drone wars, or extrajudicial killings, or unilateral war, actions that we don’t feel represent our values as a nation, then why can’t we be faithful to those beliefs?

Why do we wait for other people to tell us the change we need? When did we become so powerless as to need someone else to point it out when something is wrong? When did we become backseat drivers, agreeing (or not) to change but never, ever conceding on the terms of change?

Are there really no alternatives? Are we really so defunct, as a democracy, to produce anyone, anything, that really shoots an arrow to the heart? When was the last time you watched a politician speak and felt a conviction that made your heart flush with white heat, thinking ‘Yes. This. This is what I believe in’? Or have we become so educated that we’re all on the same page, rendering reasonable discussion unnecessary?

In the new order of things, people are resistant to change. It’s as if we’re bickering over roses or magnolias when none of us are willing to admit that the garden isn’t to our taste anymore. In fact, we fucking hate gardening. And meanwhile the weeds are still eating their way through.

Time moves forward but we remain stuck in inertia, jerking like marionette puppets to the relentless progression of minutes, hours, weeks, years. But there is a very sharp, very striking difference between waiting with patience on the side of the road to change, and wilfully avoiding making those first steps.

And Government at home?

Well, this is funny because apparently the problem is too much change. Apparently we can’t handle a shotgun election and we’re also too in love with the past to accept a female prime minister who doesn’t care about her coat choices, and did we mention that she’s in a de facto relationship?

Julia Gillard’s biggest crime is breaking her promise on the carbon tax, if not replacing Kevin Rudd himself in the first place. Let’s think about this for a second. What does the promise of a politician even mean? No – what does anyone’s promise mean? That we won’t ever think differently – even though we will? Come now. We all know that forever means forever only in that moment. Forever means forever only so long as your beliefs don’t change. Forever means forever until you change your mind, for better or worse. The law of nature dictates it. Now, do I want my prime minister to believe the same things today that she believed three years ago, no matter what has transpired in between? No matter if those beliefs are now proven to have been quick-footed, naive, reckless, wrong?

Yes, domestic politics has major commitment issues, but at least it’s willing to change its mind. Admit that it made bad choices, take risks on better ideas as they come.

But there it is again, the half-scared, half-righteous plea: today is not the day for change. Well, neither is tomorrow by the looks of it. Somehow we feel too betrayed (by what?) to be hopeful. We shouldn’t. I believe that people should be naturally optimistic. We are so tiny and fleeting in the history of the universe, and so unable to understand the vastness of our existence that it is hopeless to know what to feel about the future, let alone feeling bad about it.

And if in fact the new decisions of governments are even worse (it happens), then we should be quick and firm to call them out.

I guess being scared does make sense. The human condition is incredibly fragile. It’s hard to look forward to change when some politicians tell us it’ll hurt, even as others tell us we have to bear it for the sake of the future. Who are we supposed to trust? How do we even know what the future looks like?

But we have to remember this. The future may not belong to us, or even to our children, but we are its custodians. I believe we can do the right thing, even if it will not benefit us directly.

Picasso’s art didn’t save him from dying without ever knowing his fame. Beethoven did not compose the greatest symphonies on earth for the pleasure of his own deaf ears.

Do not wait for time. It will always be there: behind you, in front of you, plunging right ahead whether you wait or not.

Attend those rallies. Sign those petitions. Cut that hair, quit that job, drop/date that person, finish that degree, write that book, run that race, create that future.

Tomorrow’s a new day.

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