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Monday, June 27, 2005

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi:

Separating Change and Progress

Our idea of what skills are necessary to make someone competent to exist in the world change rapidly. The man who prided himself on his ability to program a VCR had little time to lord over those of us with flashing zeros on our machines. VCR’s went the way of those funny bicycles with the huge front wheels.

There are contests where geeks compete to see who can text message the fastest. We have no word “messager’ to denote one who text messages, not yet anyway, and before we make such a word let’s be sure that this phenomenon will endure long enough to be worth a print cycle of Webster’s Dictionary. I have a feeling that text messaging will very soon go the way of acid-washed jeans and wine coolers—two other things I never tried.

Driving an automobile is a skill that those of us who drive completely take for granted. I have been driving cars—legally or otherwise—since I was about fourteen. I have become so good at parallel parking that I have picked up the nickname “Urban Parker.” I know plenty of people who live in the city who don’t know how to drive. They never saw a need for it. Staying out of cars must increase your life expectancy by a few years. As dumb as I think text messaging is, not many people die from it. It’s too late for me to unlearn my driving skills, but let’s just say that I don’t practice much these days.

I don’t even want to start with video games. I came of age before video games. Before I left home there weren’t any sort of video games on the market, maybe not even on the horizon. Video gaming is definitely a skill I can live without. Call me out of touch but adults who play video games freak me the fuck out.

The French rap artist, MC Solaar, has a cool song called Obsolete in which he laments the passing of former cultural icons pushed aside by the advent of the modern technological world. The idea of the concierge was a concept I first learned about in tenth grade French class. Our teacher spent a lot of time explaining to us about the importance of the concierge in urban French society. I think that this was the first word I learned in French for which we didn’t have a corresponding English equivalent. It took some doing for us to get our little suburban kid minds around the idea of someone whose job is to let in residents in an apartment building, and a lot of other tasks that our parents made us do on weekends. In the MC Solaar song he tells that the concierge has been replaced by a digi-code system. I guess that’s one less thing for American tenth graders to worry about.

I am no Luddite. I have no problem letting go of the past. Just because I am willing to say goodbye to what were once cultural icons, this does not mean that I am also willing to grab a hold of every dumb fucking gimmick that I am presented. I hated typewriters and I love word processing. I always hated albums and I got on board with digital music early on. This doesn’t mean I am any sort of beacon. I thought cell phones were retarded right up until I bought one, years after their advent. Will I ever text message? Maybe. Video games? Never.

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