The Word Rabbit

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This article was written on 19 Jul 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

The Age of Bafflement

There comes a point in your life where it all starts going beyond you. Before this point, you not only knew what was going on, but were an active participant in it. Politics yielded its secrets quite readily, with people’s motivations being easy to understand. Your computer operating system was a friend to you and electronic stuff around the home was there to make your life easier. And after that golden time, the narrative thread starts getting smudgy and confused. I’m there, I now realise.

Were I to attach a date to it, a precise date, I’d have to pick the referendum, when people voted in a way that seems insane, but this is entirely arbitrary. For ages before that, I had the growing awareness that I couldn’t work the set top box that comes with my BT broadband. It clearly does things and has capabilities far in excess of mine and can record things far into the future, but I can’t. I can just about watch TV on the bastard thing and, even then, the SCART cable has to be plugged in or I’m baffled by the menu options. That was the start.

As well as the TV being in league against me, each successive update to the Mac operating system catches me unawares. This computer clearly does things whose brilliance I routinely fail to grasp and has competencies far outside my childish understanding but, like the set top box, they go wholly unexplored. Each interface revision to iTunes means I’m briefly unable to find my way around my music and as far as working Dropbox goes, forget it. I don’t understand what it does or why I need to know about it, so when I get messages saying that someone I don’t know has added a file to a folder I don’t ever remember accessing, I just shrug.

There are two approaches to this. You either dive in, and try to keep up with what’s current, or you say ‘bollocks to it’ and accept that you’ll be a dinosaur in a few years. My approach is the latter. In my brain, it’ll always be 2016, pre-Brexit, fixed as a possible high water mark of human experience. Only I think the high water mark of my life actually came before the September 11 attacks. I was 16 when the Berlin Wall fell, watching fascinated on TV as a fixture of my life was swept away in hours and was lucky in that I grew to man’s estate in a time of unparalleled optimism. Life was going to go on getting better, borders were going to fall and we were all one, big happy family.

So much for that. The Twin Towers and Pentagon were attacked and the world as we had briefly seen it went a different way. Afghanistan and Iraq were invaded and occupied, ineptly, the world saw the rise of Islamism and the rise of Putin and, more recently, we’ve watched the idiocy of Brexit happen and seen the rise of Farage and Trump. Whatever happens next, it’s not going to take humanity anywhere it might want to go. There’s a reasonable chance we’ll end up more divided and hateful than we were and that there may be some kind of large war as a consequence.

Maybe, then, being baffled by technology and the creeping feeling that I’m not welcome in this society are the price to pay for those 12 years of optimism. From the time I was 16 to the time I was 28, things were only ever going to get better and we were only going to get kinder. I suppose, in the overall scheme of things, that’s not a bad rate of return – twelve years of optimism for the remainder being unmitigated shite. When my granddad and great-granddad were my age, each had fought in a major European war and seen sights that would live with them for the rest of their lives. I carry no such burdens and, for that, I’m grateful.

Now, however, it’s downhill. Well, it certainly is for me intellectually, because I’ve only got a very tenuous grasp over what technology is doing, let alone popular culture and, in politics, we’re supposed to be entering a ‘post fact’ age, which sounds as though it can probably do very well without me. I’m too old to fight in a war, which is rather a relief, and too jaundiced and cynical to believe any of the lies I’m being told about our shiny new tomorrow. To paraphrase John Betjeman, ‘come friendly bombs,’ because that’s where we’re headed.

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