Technology and Disenfranchishement

When I say I want to go back to the seventies, it has more to do with technology than nostalgia.  Yes, I realize that I am sitting at a computer in a separate room from my husband, listening to a Pandora playlist online, while I type this into a word processing program.  Meanwhile, he sits on the couch in the living room, simultaneously watching television, checking the scores for a Yankees game on his iPod and texting his brother and cousin on his cellphone.  Without technology our lives would be empty.  Or would they?

This is a question I have been pondering for the past couple weeks.  Noticing that since I have left school I have less need for my cellphone, more time to read books, and less pull toward the computer.  If I could find a mid-range typewriter, something from 1985, I would be content to type on that, rather than a word processing program.  Heck, I would be content with an Apple IIe, if I could type my thoughts and then save them to a floppy disc.  I have been writing, by hand, in a journal and I am also content with that.  I do, however, notice that my hand cramps up more easily these days, since I am now more used to typing than writing.

I suppose that it has to start from inside.  This year I will start learning how to devolve back to earlier technology.  Making actual files in an accordion folder, rather than files on a flash drive.  Reading books that I can hold in my hand and turn the pages of, rather than reading articles on a computer screen.  Searching for a typewriter to collect my thoughts that come too quick for me to write in my journal.  These are small changes, but they are good.  That way, when the power goes out or the internet is suddenly unavailable, I have a way to collect my thoughts without relying so heavily on technology.  If I can do it, anyone can.

We have come to rely on this technology to live.  Not to actually exist, but to be.  Without the ability to check twitter and Facebook and the absence of email, the silence of a turned off cellphone becomes dreadfully desperate.  Without text messages to tell me that I am still breathing, however will I know I am still alive?

My iTunes playlist keeps me fully grounded in the decades ranging from the 1960’s to the 1990’s, with the exception of very few recent hit songs or underground artists.  By having the list constantly playing, throughout the course of my workday, I can be transported back to high school, Gords, or Rockwell hall at a moments notice.  As it spins to Alanis Morissette, I am reminded of my prom, not the happiest of memories, but a memory nonetheless.  Spinning to Chaka Kahn takes me back to my parents living room, sitting on the floor, as a ten year old, glued to HBO as Breakin’ is broadcast for the masses.  Trent Reznor oozes out of the speakers and I am transported to St. Catherines on a Friday night in 1995 where my best friend and I are in full Goth mode, on the dance floor, worshiping the gods of industrial music while drinking $2 blues and smoking cloves.  Everything is perfect.  Everything is new or different or just good.

Step right up, march, push, crawl right up on your knees, please, feed, greed, no time to hesitate. Trent Reznor

After reading an essay by Chuck Klosterman about The Empire Strikes Back and Reality Bites, I have suddenly realized why my obsession with the latter movie has been so strong.  I also realize that I am not alone in this obsession.  It is not a particularly good movie, but it certainly hits home.  It signifies everything about my 20’s.  I spent the bulk of that decade (1994-2004) in coffeehouses, either working or hanging out, sometimes both.  The beginning I spent in college and the end I spent in a dead end (although somewhat prestigious, in the IT department of a bank, but in the end, dead end) job.  At the very end (right before turning 30) I got married to someone who was in basically the same situation as me.  We were both in jobs that we knew we were not going to maintain forever, but they paid the bills.  We both hung out in coffeehouses and were disenfranchised, to use a sad, yet true, stereotype.  Or at least we felt disenfranchised, which is actually the same thing as being disenfranchised.  Self inflicted disenfranchisement.  This is a symptom of the Generation X group.  We have this in common, even if we do not want to admit it.  Each time a song from the 90’s is used in a commercial (which is beginning to be more and more prevalent this century) I, along with a whole generation of 30-somethings, cringe.  We are less unambivalent about this happening than our parents were.

I distinctly remember discussing this with my mother at the age of 20, the first time Pontiac used Jimi Hendrix (Fire) to try and sell their cars. I asked her, “isn’t that upsetting?” and she responded “somewhat, but what can you do?”  Well!  I say you can do a lot.  Don’t buy a Pontiac, tell everyone you know not to buy a Pontiac and begin an online campaign to stop using hippie (anti-establishment) music to sell products.  That would be my response, but hey – I’m a disenfranchised slacker – so that’s the way it goes.  I will sit in a coffeehouse and talk about protest, but how often do I get off my ass and follow through.   That was the legacy of my parents generation, so maybe they are a bit too tired to fight the good fight against corporate America.   They were too busy, in their youth, fighting for equal rights and against the war.  Obviously, there is a gulf between us, at least from this standpoint.

Well I used to stand for something, but forgot what that could be, there’s a lot of me inside you, maybe you’re afraid to see. Trent Reznor

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