Time is the longest distance

Dalston

I love the internet as much as I love geography, it’s an infinite world of endless possibilities and one that allows me to expand my universe. From following violent revolutions in Kiev to going on a date in New York, the internet is a far cry from the banal conversations you have to endure IRL.

Cyberspace is a riotously intelligent place and massively exciting too. Only virtual networks are full of illusions and despite being able to instantaneously chat with someone 4745 miles away, we still have to live and breathe in the physical world. You need money and time to experience life on a big scale and rarely (in my experience) do you get access to both.

Hope is a temporary form of insanity and I usually immerse myself in long deep thoughts when walking through East London housing estates. My rented world of tower blocks, grocery stores and loitering teen gangs.

When I buy groceries at my local co-operative shop, I often find myself dreaming of a new life elsewhere. There is something about half-price pizzas and 30% off non-bio liquitabs that makes me feel inordinately depressed. And that’s before I make eye contact with the service assistants standing behind the till.

Planet Earth

Last spring I was made redundant from an exhausted media company and finally escaped from my desk. After the initial shock of seeing my employer go bust, I received a handsome pay out and experienced what I had always craved – free time and lots of money.

With the virgin bloom of fresh green leaves and daffodils swaying in the mud of Anglican churchyards, I sat in nearby Hoxton cafes searching for a plan. And by sheer chance I found myself embarking upon a transatlantic journey that was foolish, romantic and utterly exhilarating. Life’s not meant to be lived in one place.

And on finding myself in an almost identical situation (minus the severance package) I am pining for a new hopeful song. As there is probably someone out there who is perfect for you but because of serendipity you’ll probably never meet or spend enough time together to make it right.

As you can stay within your postcode, or maybe travel a few miles by tube to the West End, or even take a wee trip to Brighton. But you always end up in the same place as before. Back where you first started and where is the fun in that?

Sentimentality can play tricks on you and you must look forward. But on walking through East London on a weekday afternoon, I realise we’re not as close or better connected as I once hoped. We’re the same as we always were, living our everyday lives, thousands of miles apart.

Chat Histories

Red head

I believe we are living in a time of great wonder. On trying to capture this sentiment, I have been trying and failing to write a story, one I may never finish, but I felt the inspiration behind this journey is worth sharing. Even if nobody is reading – this is my blog after all.

Chat Histories is a digital love story set in two continents and features a precocious red lipped actress, careerist millennial and a fruity Baptist daughter from the American South. I met two, slept with one, kissed the other, and became surreally fictionalised by another.

What started off as a throwaway message on my smartphone at Luton Airport blossomed into a series of remarkable stories – a collection of romantic illusions only made possible by new technology. The virtual world of chat is a logged history of friendship you never intended to write. From defying time and space in Grand Central Station to serendipitously becoming a theatre character in Cambridge, I can only marvel at the untold possibilities of underwater cables.

Green Light

On trying to capture the essence of virtual consciousness, I have been wrestling with potential storylines for some time now. Alas my fear, or inability, to write compelling dialogue has prevented me from moving beyond this blog. In truth I don’t even know where to start. Without a proper storyline you can get lost in a picturesque maze and I find the creative process very humbling.

As like all bloggers I consider myself to be far more intelligent than I actually am. Chat Histories is almost certainly rooted in accidental hubris. When writing in the cloud, I feel wittier, sharper and more gregarious than I might appear otherwise. Sometimes I wonder if I’m a better person online than IRL.

Some would argue we’re all more virtuous and smarter on social media anyway. Greater peer recognition gives us a dopamine rush we don’t usually receive in our everyday lives. The dichotomy of real and online lives has always fascinated me, especially as the great unborn (with their foetus scans on Facebook) won’t be able to tell the difference.

And what we are experiencing now is going to be romanticised for centuries to come; a first-time generational experience like when Kerouac travelled incredible distances in the early fifties. Overcoming time and space like never before, the Route 66 experience can only be imitated by future generations now.

What Kerouac et al went through can never be repeated in the purest sense. No hitchhiking selfies were uploaded on Instagram in 1949. All counter-culture movements, often through no fault of their own, become a pastiche of themselves in future years.

Cables

Like the Beats accelerating across a vast continent at great speeds, our newly wired world has been transformed beyond recognition. Chat Histories is my failed attempt to capture the magic of the virtual world. An unwritten tale about an ordinary life transformed by our fresh ability to write and share instantaneously.

Our constant flicker might seem surreal and highly narcissistic in years to come but it’s happening and you only get one chance. Meanwhile Chat Histories may never be published but I compose tweets and messages everyday in hope of finding something better. There are pitfalls of course, but would we ever want to go back?

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

Other Voices

Right now, I’m trying to imagine your voice and if it matches the delightful literary one you’ve developed. I wonder, do you talk the same way you write? I don’t, exactly. I still make use of my vocabulary…but I use my hands and expressions a lot, especially as I am worked up in any capacity. I also swear. I don’t often have the chance for this and I have to say, I really like it. 

Jennifer is a dirty mouthed wine peddler from Seattle with a sexual confidence that could only be described as American. With her flowing renaissance hair and verbose turn of phrase, I found myself utterly besotted by her presence one bitterly cold November (2011). Beholding this ravenously sexy woman adrift in time and space, I felt nothing but a sense of wonder. And yet she could be dead now. I don’t know. As we never actually met or even spoke for that matter because her proposed transfer to London fell through and our exchange became an empty pot of words on the internet.

If reality begins with the human mind and nothing more, then my sexy flirtation with Jennifer belongs to a false enchanting prison. A half-shine romance that flickers on screen as long as I can find the right words; the trouble is, I can always find the right words, and my fertile imagination is no longer constrained by physical dimensions.

About fifty-years ago, Marshall McLuhan in “Understanding Media,” (1964) predicted the “technological stimulation of consciousness” and through the wonders of instant connectivity, there is an uneasy feeling that something special may lie beyond our laptops. Collectively we can now go beyond what is natural on a daily basis. From speaking to people that don’t exist (Siri) to teleporting to faraway destinations (Skype) the old rules of gravity and time are slowly disappearing.

A dear friend teases me mercilessly- saying I’ll never be happy until I find someone with the stature of Paul Bunyan, the mind of Lord Byron, and the moral compass of Henry Miller…and I’m embarrassed to admit that he’s not too terribly far off, save a few exceptions…

Entertaining some of my wildest Fitzgerald fantasies, the Jennifer experience was a myopic exchange that existed in a dangerous half world. Something forged through worldly endeavour and show-off exhibitionism; certainly both of us enjoyed demonstrating how well one could write, and I’ve been rewarded with a series of highly quotable emails.

If she ever becomes famous, I have a few correspondences worthy of Letters of Note and her sparkling erudition certainly offered a reminder of how we used to write. Alas my friends in the real world, even those in foreign outposts, have easier and more convenient ways to communicate.

Last night I wrote you the most succulent of messages…or so I thought. I was drunk with wine from a dinner party and sheer exhaustion. As I was wrapping up this little note of mine, my computer froze and everything was lost. How terrible, eh? There were plenty of ‘fucks’ thrown around with some moderate hand waving. 

While I’m glad nothing ever came to fruition with Jennifer, she probably would have despised me in real life, I feel the false dichotomy of real/online lives is worthy of greater exploration. If virtuality has indeed become the next phase of evolution then we should remember projection is nothing new and underwater cables merely globalise a universal longing for connection.

As while the www is borderless, the very same hopelessness occurs in divey bars, parties and the bagging area in Sainsbury’s. Anyone can appear wonderful at the beginning of a relationship, you simply don’t know that I’m a self-orientated dreamer that doesn’t reply to text messages, watches too much football and harbours grudges against narcissistic lying frauds. Do you? Fortunately the girl from Seattle never found out in real time, which is probably just as well, as this being the internet, Jennifer is not even her real name.

Maybe websites will live on after you are dead

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.

Blink

Kindred spirits are often romanticised in modern culture, but Blink is a little more surrealist in tone. A character play set in a world just like our own, Jonah and Sophie talk about a voyeuristic love story and one fitting of a society obsessed with making connections.

Written by English playwright Phil Porter, Blink addresses how virtuality has become the next phase of evolution; a world in which you can fall madly in love with complete strangers before even making a call. An online commune of language, love and dreams created entirely with words and grainy pixels – a fantasy world where you write all the rules.

Running at the Ed Fringe throughout August, Blink relies on two protagonists – an impish northern nerd Jonah (Harry McEntire), who somewhat unconvincingly emerges from a Presbyterian boot camp with a flair for voyeurism. Meanwhile the wonderfully gifted Sophie (Rosie Wyatt) has been looking after her dying father and loses her job in a software company for a perceived ‘lack of visibility’.

It this lack of visibility that crystallises the essence of Phil Porter’s play, where Jonah follows Sophie (with her loving consent) on a webcam and they both take solace from their weird and childlike sense of isolation. It is something they cannot necessarily touch but can only feel. They inhabit a world in where virtual souls find love in the anonymity of strangers.

For you see loneliness doesn’t necessarily stem from being on your own. Solitude can or will inevitably contribute but even those with regular human company can feel lonely. It is the inability to share private thoughts, desires and acute observations with like minded souls that accentuates many people’s sense of isolation.

Like sitting on a bus two rows behind a stranger you’re to painfully shy too approach, the same aches and desires apply and in many ways it can be even more painful. Blink is a story about love. A story about how it’s easier to confess all to a bleeping box on Facebook than it is to call a childhood friend. To lapse into an inexplicable world where you believe the other to be perfect. When you haven’t even heard their voice and as quicksands of love shift, which they always do, you blink and the feeling has gone.

Blink runs at the Traverse Theatre until August 26th and the Soho Theatre from Wed 29 August – Sat 22 September. 

The Web is Not Great

Coming into work with your eyes stinging from the night before doesn’t require a night out to remember. The world is flooded with electronic light and it no longer requires anyone to go outdoors. After spending all day in front of a computer and returning home to converse in the same fashion, there appears to be more and more ways to communicate than things to say.

Cyberspace has become a black hole, where our thoughts and emotions are distributed on Facebook and Twitter, and sold on and repackaged to make a profit. God once commanded his flock to down tools on a Sunday but there is now an even more powerful designer in charge and like the celestial dictatorship of old he is entirely man-made.

With the internet going on strike over proposed anti-piracy laws, the Wikipedia protests only further exposed the excessive amount of time we spend online. Such a powerful new religion now requires a Sabbath. Luxury is a result of scarcity and what leather, travel and prawn cocktails were to the working classes in the early twentieth century, spending less time on the internet will be to the twenty first. As anyone with a compulsive refreshing habit will already realise there is something wrong with having permanently sore eyes.

Online activities are too passive to stimulate and often leaves the mind under-nourished but like junk food served in neon-aisles of 24-hour supermarkets it remains curiously addictive. In a world dominated by Twitter storms and hang outs, there is a never-ending spectre of what the computer industry calls ‘content’. But even the most erudite of web pages will leave you  feeling jaded after clicking the refresh button once too often.

With the Apple Ayatollahs of this world religiously defining their personalities through their digitally branded toys, a dangerous cult is emerging and abstinence is a potential cure. It may involve abandoning your phone and being disconnected for a few hours. Ignoring friends might not seem the most sociable way to re-engage your mind but anything that doesn’t involve being online is time worth cherishing.

Some cellular weary businessmen in the US are checking into ‘black hole’ resorts such as the Black Mountain Ranch on holiday. Granting them a chance to unplug and rediscover their love of literature and human conversation, the resort proudly boasts of having no Wi-Fi or television facilities. A Sabbath luxury of a different kind, these black hole resorts relieve the eyes of tedium by denying access to the greatest communications system of all time.

All man-made religions need challenging and especially one as powerful as the internet.  So when jumping down a black hole feels like a worthy alternative you know it’s time to put down the Kindle and reads as many books as you can.