Notes

I saw that my life was a vast glowing empty page and I could do anything I wanted

Tag Archives: Technology

Keep it in the ground

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London

I think most people write because they don’t want to sleepwalk through life. Writing is a means of keeping memories alive. If you don’t record, paint or obsessively photograph or film every living moment then why are you even here?

I write to stay alive as you forget what matters otherwise. That’s the one thing that scares me the most. Not being able to remember my stories for better or worse. I also want to keep a record of my changing. I am always changing.

School years are easy to remember if your parents keep hold of your jotters, paintings and teacher reports. Thereafter you have landmark birthdays with complementing photographs, graduation days and long hot summers doing nothing at all. Memories feel more tangible when your everyday life is administered year by year.

Only now I find months and years morph anonymously into a cloudy void. This year doesn’t feel any different than the previous four. I’m sure plenty of things have happened, but for some reason I barely notice the difference. Perhaps amnesia has set in prematurely because I’ve lived in the same flatshare for five years. Working as a freelance copywriter chasing unpaid invoices and ignoring voicemails is a repetitive trade at times.

East London Bedroom

An inconspicuous lifestyle in East London doesn’t provide much visual stimulation either. I’m sure the past few years would have been more memorable if I had gone backpacking in Chile or got married to a blonde jazz singer in Melbourne.

Alas, when I wake up in the morning there is no orchestral soundtrack accompanying my footsteps to the bathroom. My laptop screensaver is the same as the year before. Pulling open my black Primark curtains I see the same tattered plastic bag swinging from the communal birch tree every day.

Grand Central Station

If it wasn’t for my blog then I wouldn’t be able to trace anything at all. Blogging provides a highly subjective recorded history, but a necessary one if you want to join up the dots. For example I can’t honestly remember when I flew over to New York for an OK Cupid date (yes that’s right).

If I scroll back I can remember arriving in Grand Central Station. It was unseasonally hot and I was jet lagged for the first time. Walking around I remember the towering sense of civilisation, meeting Nicole, queuing outside MOMA together and buying Mexican beers in a Harlem grocery store. But the timing of this otherwise memorable trip escapes me. It could have happened anytime in the last three years. Now that’s what you call experiencing life on a big scale.

Notebook

From red ochre cave paintings in southern France to tweeting rubbish about football, there is something incredibly human about keeping a record. Skipped behind my bookcase lies a collection of diaries and notebooks I have curated over the years. With literary quotes squashed in the margins justifying their existence, I keep filling them out and dumping them alongside their older colleagues. A scrapheap of memories no one will ever read.

If I am lucky enough to have a family of my own they’ll eventually be boxed and kept upstairs in an oak wooden loft. Maybe they’ll be sparingly reopened for an old quote or a nostalgic rummage through the past. Only to be put back in their place again, a written bond with a young man that no longer exists.

In addition to my dusty notebook skip, I keep shoeboxes full of old letters, gifts and Valentine’s Day cards underneath my bed. Occasionally I take a look at them, but I haven’t checked them or my ex-girlfriends emails for over a decade. I know I will never look at them again. But I can’t bear the thought of getting rid of them either. A skip or recycle bin makes no difference to me. Deep down I want someone to read my stories when I’m not here.

Aberdeenshire Pictish Symbol

Before I longed for a written legacy I remember being assigned a primary school project to recreate the standing stones of the Picts (an ancient warrior tribe in northern Scotland). The Romans called them the ‘Painted People’ because of their elaborate monstrous tattoos embroidered on their chests. On building Hadrian’s Wall in 128AD, the Romans essentially formed an ideological frontier that stated civilisation lay down south – roads, aqueducts, fortresses.

Northward bound was a land of mist, barbarians and Pictish standing stones. The same stone circles I tried to recreate with my Dad’s chisel. Looking back it was one of my all-time favourite school projects, bashing away at a lump of rock in a bitterly cold garage. I’ve resoundingly failed to experience the same sense of joy in working ever since.

Artifical Intelligence

A large number of Pictish stone circles have survived in Scotland. Whatever messages the Picts were to trying convey I cannot fathom even now, but their recorded history remains accessible even today. Like the Picts we too express our own stories in equally vivid and complex ways, but assuming there will still be an inhabitable planet 2000 years from now, I don’t think any of my A.I descendants will be recreating my stories on an interstellar spaceship.

Electromagnetic Pulse

In some respects my skipped diaries are physical reminders of my narcissistic desire to be exhibited just like the Picts. While stone circles remain visible, our digital archives could easily be wiped out by a nuclear inspired electromagnetic pulse (EMP).

Electrical magnetic storms have the ability to destroy our civilisation just like fire pulped the ancient scrolls of Alexandria Library. A world without Wi-Fi would be nasty, brutish and short if a magnetic dystopia were ever to take place. Don’t try and order a pizza on your iPhone when it happens.

Internet Dsytopia

Bit rot – the slow deterioration of data software such as floppy discs also renders our digital civilisation useless to future historians. Cloud based services are not worth anything if technology moves so fast that you can’t even open them. Unlike calfskin vellums and hardback books accessible in public libraries today, our collective knowledge requires constant software upgrades just to stay alive.

Augmented Reality

My stories are unlikely to be remembered by anyone and that’s assuming I’m fortunate enough to have children or grandchildren interested in genealogy. My WordPress subscription has to surely expire at some point. What happens if the software company goes bust or evolves into an augmented reality server projecting to a visually attuned audience?

Email

While it probably isn’t a tragedy if my ex-girlfriends emails are unable to be read by future generations. I still want to keep them alive somehow. By taking one glance at them you hear the voice of another person, someone still alive but lost forever. Writing to me is one of the greatest human inventions, holding us all together, providing an emotional bond with the dead, living and unborn.

Biblioteca

Change is the one constant on a writer’s journey to the recycle bin. It doesn’t matter how eloquent and grand your thoughts are in the twenty-first century, all it takes is an epic server upgrade and your life stories will become robot.txt. You see that’s the progressive irony of our digital revolution. No amount of technology can save your words, especially anything stored on an electro-powered server.

A memory palace is more likely to be derived from handwritten notebooks than your Facebook archives. If I want to preserve this particular record it would be wiser to print it off and laminate it for safe keeping. But even my words will fail to outlast the stone circles of an ancient Caledonian tribe. That’s real power if you ask me. All this superlative technology spinning in the sky, and ancient rock symbols carved with a chisel in the ground will out last us all.

The future on you

I don’t know when it happened but I am obsessed with the future. Not what happens tomorrow, next week or even six months time but how new generations will perceive us. In my early twenties I didn’t particular care for how my society would go down in history. It never even occurred to me.

Perhaps I was too busy living to realise but the early millennium felt like a continuation of what had gone on before. Mobile phones fell into our pockets but none of my friends ever had any credit to make a difference. Five pounds didn’t get you very far in the noughties let alone beyond these wet green shores.

A social revolution has long since taken place and we are embracing the first wave of profound human change and the wild promises of illusionary realities. Crackling with vitality, the internet is a counter-planet constructed in an invisible place, almost like a post-terrestrial resistance against an empty universe.

Marshall McLuhan’s aphorism – “We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us”  – has never been more prevalent in modern culture.

Google Glass Map

While I embrace change I fear becoming irrelevant to the unborn billions who will be entirely shaped by the internet. Despite immersing myself in smartphone culture, I find the potential of retinal technology absolutely terrifying. Google Glass will revolutionise society in twenty years time. An augmented reality service that optimises eyesight to W3 will change everything.

The ’80s yuppies with their brick mobile phones are what marketing types call ‘early adopters’. They shaped the landscape and now they are ubiquitous. Likewise the Californian tech-hipsters with Google Glasses are only the beginning.

Even if you opt out of wearing Google Glass there will be billions of digitally subscribed eyes immersing you in their own reality. Uncomfortable? Move with the times.

When you can re-live the past there’s nothing you can hide. Our faculties are already being eroded by the internet and with retinal technology you will no longer need to remember anything.

Memory could well become a myth like ancient Latin or Greek. A figment of a great past – a romantic illusion unable to compete with an all knowing camera. With everyone carrying a second screen in their pockets our lives are becoming increasingly cinematic by default.

Hence the rise of immersive cinema and theatre events in London and New York, where audiences want to interact with events that hitherto they had passively consumed in silence.

Our post-modern universe is like being trapped midway on a celluloid reel and sometimes I imagine myself as a frail 82-year-old in 2063, reminiscing to young people about my semi-pastoral childhood in the late 20th century. Recalling barbaric stories about ordinance survey maps, paper rounds, rotary dial telephones and box televisions.

Unlike today my Mum couldn’t upload images of her 3-year old son’s birthday onto a global network. I was nobody’s profile picture. My first day at school wasn’t recorded on camera either. Neither was my younger brother and sister. Fading photographs captured my childhood in a rustic manner but our lives are an ongoing anthology, a composite of many selves, and the young boy in those pictures doesn’t exist anymore.

One seminal moment took place in my mid-teens, when in 1996 my Dad sent his first ever e-mail on this strange invention called the internet. My brother and I gathered round his swivel black chair and watched history in the making. We didn’t think anything of it at first but I do remember it vividly. Who were we to know that this new technology would transform our lives forever? Now that’s history worth remembering and I haven’t looked back since.

1985

Maybe websites will live on after you are dead

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Glasgow’s Necropolis certainly knows how to look after the dead. Many of the city’s richest merchants, landed families and ecclesiastical figures are buried there. Scotland’s most iconic graveyard is full of broken down tombs and while visiting footsteps will cause more damage, it seems fitting that the living should take precedence over the dead. Many of the chiselled obituaries have now been wiped clean by the inevitable crushing of time and those who pass away are usually forgotten about within a generation.

Not that I want to speculate about my demise but I will inevitably perish in the twenty-first century and my existence will be erased from memory in the twenty-second. Sounds harsh but how many flowers are left at the gravestones of those who passed away in 1892? Nobody really recalls their Great-Great-Great Granddad who enlisted to fight in the Boer War as a callow youth. Likewise no one will remember a blogging Scotsman who worked in online web content during the first half of the twenty-first century.

Graves like memories are not supposed to last and even the grandest tombs end up being mossed over without a trace. Overlooking the soot-stained Glasgow Cathedral, the opulent neo-classical tombs of the Necropolis were originally inspired by Ancient Greece and now lie smashed open by Victorian grave diggers and cider swilling tramps. Their inhabitant’s identity erased from memory after centuries of neglect. Unsurprising really as the vast majority of dead people are of no interest to anyone apart from amateur genealogists or school children tracing graves as part of their history project.

Crumbling like bits of cheese over time, graves are metaphors for life itself and yet traditional cemeteries are undergoing a technological revolution. Quick Response (QR) codes are going to be installed in graveyards allowing visitors to scan headstones for online biographies of dead people. Unlike in the past, where graves collapse over time, embedded QR codes could potentially revolutionise the cemetery experience.

Costing a mere £300, QR codes will provide the dead with a Wiki style biography that will include images, videos and tributes from family and friends. By scanning a smartphone, the life story of the newly buried can be downloaded within seconds – outlining their birthplace, nationality, mutual friends and tagged Facebook photos from a flat warming party in the 01’s. A remarkable development that will ensure even the dead will become stars and constellations in this new virtual world.

Our souls may perish but our life stories will live on thanks to modern technology. Checking in for what must seem like an eternity, no one will be mourning this blogger in the twenty-second century, but I am now confident that my data will live forever. Six feet under and yet better connected than ever before.

The Pen is Dead

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Letter writing is an increasingly rare occurrence these days. With the rise of smartphones, there are simply more convenient ways of expressing our feelings. As a frequent note jotter myself, I despair at the slow disintegration of my own handwriting. Although I do take solace in that I still compose my thoughts in legible English, as the shape of most people’s written ovals, loops and slants has been in terminal decline for decades now.

Writing a letter to your friend has almost become a Victorian anachronism; something quaint and romantic but no longer necessary. Like revitalising dead languages in areas they were never originally spoken, letter writing has become a sentimental way to communicate.

Chatting online is more convenient nowadays but handwriting forces you to slow down, to think, to form your thoughts more carefully. Everybody’s handwriting will die out eventually without regular practice. Each year I witness my handwriting deteriorate and I still scribble my thoughts down on a regular basis. But note jotting doesn’t require anywhere near the same level of discipline as writing a letter.

There is something about pressing the tip of a pen against a page and watching your thoughts form right in front of you. Letter writing is a genuinely cathartic experience and it helps you remember things, unlike any messages you may compose online. There is no undo button in real life.

As a former teenage boy of letters, I feel something has been lost by the instant muses of mobile technology. When composing your thoughts on paper, the writer has to form relationships entirely dependent on their written skills. Letter writing is certainly a more genuine way to express your feelings.

Receiving a handwritten letter in the post will always feel more meaningful than a hastily composed email or Facebook message. In fact putting pen to paper feels almost too personal now. Composing something online is easier because the medium provides a cloak of anonymity that a pen cannot provide.

With the evolutionary demise of handwriting being predicted by some experts, there is a now a romantic movement trying to restore the art of letter writing. The Domestic Sluts are kicking off a debate in London this week about social media and how our letter writing has changed since we started emailing. Does it really matter that we don’t write by hand anymore?

On a practical level it doesn’t matter as our need to communicate has never been driven by romantic sentiment. Once technology is established in people’s lives, it doesn’t go away. Indeed the very existence of a restoration movement suggests letter writing is dead already.

Romantic movements are meaning well but they are niche by their very nature. Letter writing was never meant to be a kitsch lifestyle choice. Letters are now exhibited as period pieces in retrospective galleries, where once they lay on the porch floor awaiting to be torn open. With the rise of modern technology we arguably exchange more messages and communicate than ever before. Progress is inevitable but as our handwriting passions slowly die, it sometimes comes at a price.

Your mind is the scene of the crime

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After moving to South Hackney two years ago, I have enjoyed a peaceful inner city existence and never felt in any danger. Occasionally teenagers can be seen loitering around the canal bridge and feral kids play improvised football against the recycling bins. But this if anything provides a sense of gritty character to an otherwise dull residential neighbourhood.

While the grim Stalinist appearance of the estate and being surrounded by human storage containers is depressing at times, I have never had any reason to be fearful. Well at least until the coalition government’s new crime website was launched this week. The location based website provides an interactive map of reported violent crime, burglary and anti-social behaviour on every street in England and Wales.

Almost immediately I punched in my postcode and against my better judgement, I found myself living in a crime hotspot. Everyday I walk over the canal bridge on Shepherdess Walk and feel perfectly safe. But the government website reveals a different story.

There are incidents of burglary, vehicle crime and drug dealing on what I had previously assumed to be an idyllic thoroughfare. Clearly the teenage hoods on the bridge have been up to no good. Further inspection of the website reveals there were 2134 reported incidents of crime in my postcode area in December alone.

Should I be too scared to leave the house now? The chances of me being a victim of crime appears to have increased since I discovered what goes on outside when I’m indoors. Even though I should be terrified of my crime ridden estate, I have yet to even spot a litter bug during my two-year stint in Hackney.

Such horrifying statistics are in stark contrast to what I experienced in rural Aberdeenshire as a child. After pouring over the dark side of inner city life, I initially began to reflect back upon how kids from my village would play football after school instead of drug dealing or car theft.

While times have changed since the 1980s and the rise of the internet and games consoles has probably contributed towards more kids staying indoors, I remember how my peers indulged in criminal activity of their own. Every year local school kids would construct massive hay bases in nearby fields and cause thousands of pounds worth of damage.

Most eight years old’s are unaware of the economic value of a hay bail and are unlikely to have a crisis of conscience when they turn one into a straw heap. As a result, local farmers would angrily come charging after us in their tractors once they realised their cherished field had descended into a William Golding novel. The thrill of the chase begins when you are young and I fondly remember scrambling over stone dyke walls escaping from irate Doric farmers as a school boy.

Crime like love is in the eye of the beholder and while stealing strawberries and pea-pods from an allotment patch might have seem like harmless fun to a country village boy. Is it really any different from local youths in Hackney stealing Mars Bars and Coke cans from a 24 convenience store? Enid Blyton would have loved my village escapades and my childhood experiences of crime seem incredibly idyllic in hindsight.

While urban youths are frequently demonised in the media, I can empathise with bored teenage youths loitering around shops in sub-zero temperatures. Dimly lit streets and high rise buildings judge their offspring cruelly in the absence of wide green spaces. In light of the newly publicised figures, I should perhaps tread more carefully along the streets of Hackney but likewise so is the fear of me becoming another government statistic.

Evolving English

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If reading your Facebook page doesn’t send you into a murderous rage then obviously you don’t have any issues with the English language. Such is the eclectic range of friends in my feed, I frequently find myself laughing at some of the witty and hilariously stupid updates. One former school friend of mine …wishes this abses would go awa no am nae gan 2 the dentist i hate them al burst it myself’.

Facebook inevitably provided this young Scotsman with counselling and advised him ‘Dina mean to scare u but my fiance’s cousin died from one, burst and all the poison went into his blood and into his brain. Better get it sorted!’ And while that does sound extremely painful, what I found interesting was not his abscesses but the near impenetrable use of the Scots dialect.

On wanting to discover more about phonetics, I decided to go along to the Evolving English exhibition at the British Library.  The concept behind the exhibition is the historical and social origins of the English language from 5th century runes to 21st century ‘txt-speak’.

As a matter of principle I have always written text messages in proper English. Such is my aversion to typing without vowels; I regularly had to endure severe financial penalties throughout the pay as you go era. With a flush new phone contract, I can now compose long messages without having to scratch a voucher card every other day.

For nearly a decade now I have dismissed txt speak with a barely concealed contempt. Some of my prejudices were further exposed in an innocuous conversation with a womanising guy who insisted ‘all girls use LOL’ when they are texting. By doing so he unknowingly confirmed that getting a ‘LOL’ out of a girl is an essential part of the modern courting process.

Lolling along I have considered LOL to be feminine ever since. In stark contrast any self-respecting man using this abbreviation is beyond contempt in my opinion. But why I am being so open misogynistic by inferring only women can get away with such frivolous language? Modern text abbreviations are extremely open to interpretation as this heart warming tweet reveals below.

Considering that nearly two billion people speak varying forms of English, I began to question my own relationship with the language.  Despite having a distinctive regional accent, I have always composed my words according to how I think rather than how I speak.

And while I love reading dialect in stories and poetry, I continue to mock ordinary people who express themselves in txt talk. Following the finest traditions of prejudice, I have always dismissed txt-shorthand as a form of illiteracy and those who use it to be ignorant and lazy.

Although this is to disregard the evolutionary nature of English and texting is just another example of the malleability of the language. Constantly changing and evolving from the 5th century, English has never remained static and while txt speak is subject to serious derision by conservative academics. It isn’t that much different than some of the ludricious office jargon I have to endure on a daily basis, where words such as ‘hyper local’, ‘granularity’ and ‘consumer facing brands’ are considered gospel.

Some of the most cultured and intelligent people I know are prone to a good LOL now and again. Indeed I have a new found affection for people who Laugh Out Loud but for reasons unknown to me I still think men who use it are idiots.

Alas despite being enlightened by the British Library, I refuse to use LOL on grounds of principle. Instead I have an alternative expression of mirth in the form of ‘haha’, which I regularly use when reading about ex-school colleague’s gum problems on Facebook.

Think before you click

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On becoming increasingly worried I am becoming addicted to Facebook, I began to investigate why I incessantly clicked on my smartphone for messages and comments I knew weren’t there. It made no sense for me to continually log in for updates when I had checked 14 seconds earlier. Alas I continue to tap away at my glass pane for salvation and while I might have a case of undiagnosed OCD, I suspect something more profound is controlling my urges. By clicking compulsively I am sub-consciously longing to be rewarded by some form of human attention.

Social networking is highly addictive and one of the dangers of this artificial world is that feeds into a particularly modern form of estrangement. Never before has society been so well connected yet the bite-sized nature of the internet often leaves me feeling empty.

More so I find myself longing for when people wrote or described their experiences rather than just upload photographs. Writing is never static and can be magically conjured up in a letter, email, blog or an even an instantaneous conversation with a likeminded friend. The danger with the transient nature of modern communications is that any prose will be lost at the time of delivery and there will never be an effective method of preserving your electric thoughts.

When I found myself on holiday in St Ives last year, I had to endure the trauma of my phone dying and being without the internet for three days. Suddenly I had to physically buy a newspaper to satisfy my hunger for stories, news and articles. Once my compulsion could no longer be satisfied, I relaxed and began to enjoy my immediate surroundings and forgot about the trivia electronically stored in my pocket.

On returning home to London and logged into Tweetdeck, I was enormously deflated by how utterly inane some of the messages were. Violent streams of spam, link repetition and empty RIP tributes to dead actors, whom the majority of tweeters had probably never heard of until Gabriel blew his horn.

What I fear the most about the proliferation of social networking is the uniformity of taste on applications such as Facebook, Twitter and the truly awful Foursquare. When the majority of people use the same websites, it ruins a romantic idea, of there being a sense of depth or continuity with previous generations.

As while there are tremendous benefits in the evolution of technology, I also think it will be responsible for the end of a specific type of geographical culture. The world is getting smaller and mass production is getting so big. If everyone orbits the same ubiquitous super brands then we are in serious danger of becoming the same.

While discovering new technologies can be exciting and rewarding, I find the lack of originality of the people using these applications to be very unimaginative. When I ceased to have internet access in St Ives, I began to compose my own thoughts, explored the world with virgin eyes and documented my thoughts with a pen.

Then I began to remember the works of Laurie Lee and Patrick Leigh Fermour and how their travel journeys painted new landscapes and people in such a vivid and beautiful way. They were genuinely living their experiences rather than inanely reporting them.

The medium isn’t the only message and while I don’t want to reject new technology, I feel there is some value in disconnecting from the emptiness which pervades social networking. Living in a world where everyone is their own personal marketing assistant, I find myself immersed in this digital matrix. But like junk food on the high street, I recognise it’s not always good for me. Switching off might well be preferable to refreshing an overpriced glass screen and hoping to see a red digit on Facebook.

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