Readers! As you no doubt have hard enough lives already, I am going to try serving up my blog posts in shorter chunks. This week, the account of a day’s walking last weekend and associated flim-flam will be spread over the whole week. See what you think, and let me know by your preferred channel of communication – you could comment on one of the posts, try telepathy, or use an old standby like semaphore or skywriting.
The journey to Mentmore, the Bedfordshire village where my grandparents used to live, reminds me of the feeling, the flavour and the solar-plexus pang of exciting new ideas. Back in 1985, heading there for the last of several family holidays, I had two revelatory texts with me: a computer mag with an article about the Apple Mac and ‘desktop publishing’, and William Gibson’s seminal cyberpunk novel Neuromancer. As dad drove us through the tree-lined lanes, I was experiencing the heady delirium of encountering the concept of cyberspace and, somehow more exciting, the idea of a computer that would let you lay out text in any size and position you wanted.
So it was fitting that this journey to Mentmore should begin with IT, cyberspace and words of different sizes. My working week concluded with at TEDx Liverpool, a sort of conference: ‘”TED” stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design’ and at ‘TEDxLiverpool, where x=independently organized TED event…TEDTalks video and live speakers will combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group.’ Jennie came too, with the car loaded with stuff for a night away and the next leg of my walk. The venue was the Liverpool Innovation Centre, a science-parky type of place (glass, steel, carpets with hardly any rorschach coffee stains yet) by the end of the M62 – the ideal jumping-off point for a southerly trip. We drove to the car park through streets named Innovation Boulevard and Digital Way, parked and walked up to the reception room, where corporate beverages were enjoyed, together with views of the gigantic old Littlewoods Building across vast lawns.
(Odd to think this is where my grandparents’ pools coupons would have ended up. Someone said it was being converted into schools. How marvellous – perhaps the pupils will do Spot the Ball instead of games, and learn literacy using only the letter X.)
TEDx was a great event and I particularly enjoyed the AA-like community feel of being somewhere where fiddling with a mobile during the talks was not only allowed but actively encouraged: a robot would blow bubbles whenever anyone twittered using the event’s hashtag #TEDxlp. I got plenty of work-related ideas and did some of my patented ‘networking for introverts’, and as the afternoon wore on the weekend psychogeographer in me began to emerge. I found the soft-sell future-shock of this Microsoft video intriguing:
…navigating such an interactive sf world has its appeal, with its logically-constructed work projects, leaf-surrounded intelligent living spaces, virtual pop-up direction signs and portable information. In a way, this is the western world making good on the promises it was making to me as I read my way through that long-ago holiday, providing as it does Tessier-Ashpool AIs, Sprawl and scalable fonts. So cheers for that, ‘world; it’s all good. But I also want lostness, chance, mess, messed-upness, joy, broken trails, manual overrides, tears, awe, analog knee-scrapings, and things pointless and unexpected – the stuff that the Microsoft presentation isn’t selling.
And I expect I’ll get ’em, however good the next software releases are. And meanwhile, people will be cleaning up the outwash of the superclean high-functioning MS world.
As we drove away, Jennie reminded me of the first video we had seen, Renny Gleeson’s (funny and poignant) 3 minutes on Antisocial Phone Tricks:
I am one of those people, dowsing the world with my phones and cameras, sucking in pixels to make photos and tapping out words to distant strangers while real things happen around me. In terms of this journey, I need to think: am I walking just so I can write about it online, being part of a culture where ‘our reality right now is less interesting than the story we’re going to tell about it later’, and maybe in a tiny way invoking the connected but content-free world of MS 2019?
To be continued