19 October 2013

London Review of Books: “Diary”

We have all signed up to wear those earpieces, a future form of new media that will chop our consciousnesses into small dice. Google has made real the interruptors that Vonnegut thought of as a fantasy evil for his dystopian 2081. Google thinks that glasses that interrupt you constantly would be awesome, at least for Google, and they are now in development. I tried on a pair that a skinny Asian guy was wearing in the line at the post office (curious that someone with state of the art technology also needs postal services). A tiny screen above my field of vision had clear white type on it. I could have asked it to do something but I didn’t need data at that juncture, and I’m not in the habit of talking to my glasses. Also, the glasses make any wearer look like, yes, a geek. Google may soon be trying to convince you that life without them is impossible. Rebecca Solnit

I’m certainly not to one to defend Glass, but this article goes a little too far accusing technology of all sorts of negative changes in the society. There is always a tendency to see past times in a favorable light, like a gold standard that we should always come back to, but life and people move on and new generations tend to have different ideas of what’s best for them.

As I was reading it, I was reminded of a little story I heard during a tour through Bucharest, an anecdote published in a newspaper sometime in the last century. It goes something like this: “Around the turn of the century, a woman enters a tailor shop, bargains with the owner for half an hour and walks out with 8m of cloth for a dress. Once at home she sits down and writes a long letter to her lover; he later replies with an equally elaborate letter to confirm their meeting place. Her husband, hearing about her affair, simply starts reading the newspaper relaxed and thinks fondly about his own mistress. Thirty years later, a woman of similar age – one could think of her as the daughter of the first – enters the same tailor shop, argues with the keeper for 5 min, buying 40cm cloth. She sends a quick note to her lover asking for a meeting; he agrees through a short note of his own. As her husband discovers the affair, he starts a scandal and divorces her.” The moral of the story being that life always seems to speed up, but people go on and adapt nevertheless and society doesn’t break down because of the changes.

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