Speedometers

August 28th, 2006 | brainjuice

I remember, as a kid, reading Doris Lessing’s foreword to her novel SHIKASTA and being struck by an aside comment: that the youth of “today” (1981) could not conceive of how wonderful the present was, where any book you could think of was there to be had “on a nearby shelf.”  Soon, I will have to explain to my daughter, who, through her love of story and fantasy will soon be interested in fringe, “occult” knowledge, that part of the joy of seeking it out was the quest itself.  Poking around in small grimy London bookstores for the transcript of the Jonestown tape that Genesis P-Orridge released as a photocopied pamphlet comes to mind, for me.  And dozens of other objects I had to hunt down.  They were on a shelf somewhere, but it could be a fight to lay yours hands on them, back then.

When she was about four years old, we had the television conversation.  Where I had to explain to her that when I was a kid, there were three tv channels, and one of those didn’t come online until 5.30 in the evening.  She considered this, my Lilith, and then said, “was one of them The Disney Channel?”  When she heard that it wasn’t, she flopped back in her car seat, rolled her eyes, and I swear she actually said: “but, Daddy, what did young people do back then?” 

She’s growing up in a time where any piece of knowledge is at the end of a Google search.  Here you go, found in under two seconds: the Jonestown transcript.  In a world now defined by nets and jets, she’s in a position where web access will bring her any datum she can frame a halfway correct search string for.  She’ll find what a lot of us have found, which is that for many daily things we don’t need the nearby shelf anymore.  It’s worth stopping to consider what’s happened in our lifetimes so far.  Taking a reading of the speed of things.  And, in that concept of the Western world run by nets and jets, considering the drag factors.  If you’re in Britain, then you know as well as I do that we don’t really have so many jets right now, on the basis of the premature and enforced arrest of “terrorists” who spent most of their time making “martyr videos” of themselves with their laptops and not so much time actually obtaining passports.  Thanks to that clusterfuck, I’m going to have my rectum checked for hidden shower gel when I fly to Helsinki next month.

And, right now, a friend of mine is waiting to be told whether she’s going to be sent into the teeth of Hurricane Ernesto.  Because her job is to be sent into American disaster zones to keep the internet backbone up, a job she does with a Glock on her hip.

Ernesto, by the way, has dumped momentum over Haiti, but is expected to pick up speed again once it gets over the open sea, aiming itself at the Florida Keys.

It’s all about speed.


18 Responses to “Speedometers”

  1. And still in this day and age I cannot replace my beloved copy of “Lovely Biscuits” by Grant Morrison. I picked up the last copy on a shelf in some comics shop in London while there in ’99. It was ruined by a flood while in the care of a sweet little punk girl I was sort of seeing several years later. She offered to replace it, but by that time it was already impossible to find. Here I am five years later still trying to replace a paperback that no longer exists for sale. I’m still waiting for my chance to read “Red Queen Rising” one more time.

  2. I’m glad I’m old enough to appreciate how easy it is to find things now with a quick Google search. If something is not available in a legit form on Amazon or E-bay, a bootleg version is sometimes even easier to find. I’m just glad that my local indie shops still seem to be thriving in the middle of this global economy. The net can’t replicate thumbing through books, CDs and records and talking to the ever-knowledgeable owners.

    Also, “Lovely Biscuits” appears to be available over on Amazon.co.uk for £49.99.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/offer-listing/1902197011/ref=dp_olp_2/202-8888258-4313459?condition=all

  3. Just last year I had to call a detested ex-boyfriend in order to negotiate the return of two out-of-print books I’d loaned him (back in the days when I thought he’d actually appreciate Spider Robinson). And somehow, *that* was more fun than downloading new copies. I must be jaded.

  4. Wow I just did a price conversion for £49.99 to American bucks and that’s a frickin insane price. I’d keep watching e-bay.

  5. So much to think about. Like I needed anything else to keep me awake.

    I do love these posts, though.

  6. It is weird isn’t it? I think about all I’ve been through just in 30 years in terms of change…

    TV – 3 channels, to four, to hundreds.
    Music – Tapes to CDs to MP3s.
    The home computing revolution.
    The rise of the internet.

    I’ve always been an information junkie, used to be books and the news, now it’s the net and it is an addiction, the problem is working out which information is actually good and useful.

    With the fuel crunch and the paranoia I’m surprised nets aren’t replacing jets more than they already are.

  7. I’ve nearly lived in bookstores and libraries since I was old enough told hold a book with my own two hands. Nothing can replace the feeling being in a building full of books. Google for fast knowledge, revel in books for their pure enjoyment.

  8. I was tinkering with an old rotary phone when a neighborhood kid asked “what’s that?” He could not believe that the squat ugly thing of non-shiny plastic was once a communications tool. Nor could he fathom the idea that “dial” once involved turning something.
    My girlfriend old 3D images, from stereoscope cards to Viewmasters, and the kids’ heads just explode when they see them.

  9. […] Warren Ellis on speed of access […]

  10. […] Warren Ellis marvels at the speed of futuristic change, but then, he does that a lot, doesn’t he? Hell, so do I. […]

  11. There is nothing more thrilling to me than to take a brand new pack of note cards and spends days in the dusty stacks and file catalogues of the Detroit Public Library Main Branch. I used to know the layout like the back of my hand, where every collection was, how to find the obscure newspaper files, and where exactly to sit in the Burton Collection and not be kicked out at noon when the staffed closed up shop and went to lunch.

    I spent three days reearching Paradise Valley and I have 600 notecards chronically my journy, including the sidetrips to the Maproom, the three-hour phototrip through the Hackley Collection, and almost an hour talking with a security guard who used to live in a boarding housede nearby and told me stories about the Jim Crow laws of the time and the bars he used to frequent. You can’t find guys like him on the Internet.

    There is something satisfying in the hunt for information that is sometimes greater than the reward of finding what you’re looking for.

  12. On demand information-

    A boon and a bane to man but I swear- I love this shit.

  13. […] Speedometers excellent observations (tags: tech warrenellis brainjuice) […]

  14. as several post have noted not everything is online and the danger is that the post-internet generation actually believes that everything IS online. its not. i’ve spent days when my university account (got to pay that bill) went down trying to find articles and information on vernacular drug cesation practices of heroin junkies. little to nothing. its locked up behind shinny university towers. same is true for a pamphlets on early witchcraft practices in rural england etc. etc. the internet is full of stuff but oddly, if like spider you spend 24 straight ours surfing one particular topic or theme you’ll find that most of it is a joyless repetition. i think we have to let the next generation of twisted, lost and restless youth know that very little of interest has ever been found by sitting by yourself in your bedroom.

  15. I agree that not everything will be available online, although, there is a good chance that a kindred soul will have created a digital duplicate. My big fear with viewing the world as an all-digital source of knowledge is the ability, of those in control, to make things “slip through the cracks”. Entire generations of knowledge could disappear off the radar with no one the wiser (in the same way that your favorite albums or movies never made the jump from tape format to digital disc). “Information yearns to be free” but it’s only as free as the controls in place will allow.

  16. In the future, public libraries won’t exist the way they do, now. This is part of the epiphany that fucked me up and out of library school.

    I remember a friend telling me about his daughter, a young, sprightly thing, who had grown up with TiVO, and had encountered *broadcast television* for the first time out in the sticks. She didn’t see the *point* of television you couldn’t control.

  17. Heck, I think the audio to the Jim Jones tape is even out there. Maybe this is it: http://www.archive.org/details/ptc1978-11-18.flac16

  18. […] conducted by flipping through dusty periodicals in a library basement. (which author Warren Ellis lamented on his blog) Previously inaccessible information is […]