Thursday, June 19, 2008



A strange and surreal experience occurred today while sorting through my earthly belongings. I found an old laptop that my beloved and I received when we first moved to the west coast in 1997. I don't think it had been used by either of us since about 2000. It was a gift of sorts from the small software start-up my wife worked for briefly that year.

If you want to be both amused and mortified here are the specs on this "antique" electronic device;
  • it has a whopping 16MB of memory
  • the total hard drive space devoted to storing those valuable Corel Wordperfect documents is a staggering 850MB - about the same amount of storage capacity that my iPod has in it's small toe
  • of course it used Windows '95, the ubiquitous operating system of choice from a bygone era
  • it is a behemoth and weighs about 8 lbs, so it could easily be used for enhancing upper body strength or it could make one helluva sturdy paperweight
  • it is just over 2 inches thick and could therefore conceivably eat a few razor thin Macbook Airs for breakfast
I experienced a distortion in the space-time continuum as the realization came to me how something within my recent living memory could appear so antiquated after only being out of sight for about 7 or 8 years. The idea of cultural acceleration or "the compression of time" is relevant to my experience, and it seems plausible to me that in this age of rapid fire technological and social change that something 10 years old could justifiable be referred to as an "antique".

I think that this rapid obsoleting of technology is a fairly recent phenomena, one that our human psyche is struggling to play catch up with. In the past, other than a few aesthetic or design related changes, the things we used stayed relatively the same in their functionality ; your typewriter pretty well did the same thing, as did your phone, TV, radio etc.

In recent time it appears to be accepted that what you own will likely be outdated within a few years. I think this speeds up our sense of time, distorts our reality and provides a sense of displacement that is simultaneously unsettling and awe inspiring. We are often left in the dust, trying to catch our breaths as the winds of change blow capriciously around us.

In closing, as I come to terms with the ancient 10 year-old artifact before me, here are some poignant parting words from author James Gleick;

"We are in a rush. We are making haste. A compression of time characterizes the life of the century now closing. Airport gates are minor intensifiers of the lose-not-a-minute anguish of our age. There are other intensifiers— places and objects that signify impatience . . . . The DOOR CLOSE button in elevators . . . Remote controls: their very existence, in the hands of a quick- reflexed, multitasking, channel-flipping, fast-forwarding citizenry, has caused an acceleration in the pace of films and television commercials"

-James Gleick "Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything (Pantheon, 1999)

1 comment:

Randal Graves said...

It's sad. I've always preferred taking the longer, more circuitous route. We're going to have to create our own little bubbles in such a world of speed.

Not that I relish a return to 24k dial-up.