It’s an easy trope, the old person bumbling with some electronic device. The unwieldy TV remote, a black brick with buttons, useless in finding The National with Knowlton Nash. Long snaking grocery store line-ups as an elderly customer taps futilely away. “Here?” “No, here, ma’am,” “Here?” “Why don’t we try and insert your card, ma’am, and then enter the security code.” “The what?!” (As a matter of fact, since you’re asking, I can’t use the self-checkout because I’m buying beer here.) Text messages and their endless series of identical screen shot attachments. “Give me your phone for sec, grandpa.”
Ageist? Almost certainly. But in my ripely mature defense, being old allows me great latitude to indulge in a little mockery of the aged.
For I myself have felt the disorienting lash of modernity in my recent attempt to reboot All Fired Up in the Big Smoke.
“A couple hours,” I reckoned, to get the old blog up and going again. It’s not like I’m trying to reinvent the wheel, as they say, said, back in the day, the good old days. Change the colour scheme. Make it less confrontational, more welcoming. Update the About and Contributors sections, profile pics, maybe a little rearrangement of the various graphic… thingies. Easy peasy, Eloisie. How hard could it possibly be? After all, it’s only been six years since I posted anything. Only. Six. Years.
“Yeah. A couple hours. At most.”
As anyone below a certain age-related demographic will tell you, six years is a fucking eternity in terms of tech.
Change, of the perpetual kind, is a feature not the bug. Why would you want to do what you were doing in 2016 when you could be doing what you could be doing in 2022? (And as an aside? What you were doing in 2016 wasn’t exactly state-of-the-art even then, if you know what I’m saying, pops.) ‘The future, Mister Gittes. The future!’
For what I was trying to do in resuscitating the blog, trusted advisors gently nudged me toward the notion that maybe WordPress wasn’t the platform to be using. There were other, better, fresher alternatives out there now to help reestablish my social media presence as a writer of books rather than blogs. Substack. Have you heard about Substack? Authors are all using the Substack these days.
Eliciting from me those bubbling, gurgling, cauldron stewing sounds of disquiet and displeasure that can only be made by years of disgruntlement fermented in bourbon-soaked aged casks. Followed by a mumbled litany of frustration at having been outfoxed by the wily rabbit once more. Fressen, fressen, frick and fracking…
As a matter of fact, no. I do not feel like updating my jumbled cultural references. And I don’t much care for your tone, young man.
In my defense, it isn’t all age related, this tech, let’s not call it ‘aversion’, but more of an indifference. I wasn’t born during the Great Depression, forever marking me as someone who collects balls and balls of surplus rubber bands and empty yogurt containers just in case, because you never know. I’m as reliant on the new-fangled telli-a-phones as the next person.
In fact, I am young enough, yes, young enough, to remember the coming of the information age. I was there as others heralded the arrival of the personal computer. Fellow students I knew were even writing their term papers with them. “Wow! That’s quite something,” I imagine myself thinking I said when I first encountered one of the contraptions.
I just didn’t care. Making me the classic case of the late adopter. Adopter? Adapter feels more like the phrase. A late adapter. Late adopter? Late adapter?
Unprepared as I was for what amounted to little more than a self-inflicted technical glitch, a tempest in a teapot as grannie used to say, I’ve been completely caught off-guard by the tone of the proceedings I’ve stepped back into. My initial plan for the relaunch targeted the week after the provincial election here in Ontario. No need to wade into all that, I thought. Political talk wasn’t my angle anymore. Allow the dust to settle and come back into the softer, warm weather news cycle. When people disengaged for a couple months.
But politics didn’t take a summer vacation this year. An early post I had ready to go would coincide with the wholly inadequate and unsurprising apology by the TPS for its historic and ongoing misuse of force against racialized groups in Toronto. No one needed to hear anything from me just then, anything as inconsequential as I had written for the day. There were daily updates of atrocities being committed in the Ukraine. Covid’s 7th wave. The unrelenting mass shootings across the U.S, with a couple Scandinavian attacks for good measure. An Arctic heatwave, you say? As the rains continue to pour dowjan on Australia. All against the backdrop of the regular moral grind of increasing poverty, inequality, injustice and Jeff Bezos taking to Twitter.
Then, of course, there’s the U.S. Supreme Court’s crusade against the 20th-century. (No link necessary. Just google ‘SCOTUS’ and ‘WTF’… Wait. Should I even be using the Google? They’re up to no-good too, aren’t they.)
The situation out there, everywhere out there, no one’s immune – although disparities being what they are, some of us are more immune than others – is dire, teetering on catastrophic. It’s all going to hell in a handbasket, and I cringe at how easily the phrase floats up from the septic tank of our current affairs. Precisely the thing old people say, their days increasingly numbered, the world’s imminent demise mirroring their own.
Come on, sourpuss. It’s not as bad as all that. Turn that frown upside down. Put your best foot forward and check for the silver linings in that bank of grey clouds racing toward us. They’re really dark though, those clouds, aren’t they. Really, really dark. Does that one look a little funnel-y to you? Derecho. A word I’d never heard until this summer.
Of course, none of it’s recent, this fraying at the edges and rotting from the core except perhaps the urgency. It was all lurking and festering around us six years ago when I put the blog on the back burner. But my oh my, the mood, the mood’s taken a turn. It’s nasty out there now, and that’s saying something, given the pit of hostility during the Rob Ford years that many of us swam in. I docked the blog, at least partially, because it just made me angry, the state of things.
It seems there’s an antagonism now bred of little more than spite rather than principles or ideology. Too many of us, far too many to simply ignore and get on with the business of living well in its classical sense of the term, define ourselves purely in opposition to any thought or idea that does not satisfactorily answer the question: What’s in it for me? And if I can make sure I can knock others down a wrung or two while we’re at it, that would be an added bonus.
In a word: FREEDOM! leeched now of whatever abstract meaning the word once possessed.
Don’t mistake this as something it isn’t, some Paikinesque, In My Day lament for the civility of yore. There’s a golden era hue of nostalgic fog to the claim of a mystical, majestic we-put-our-differences-at-the-door-for-the-greater-good, collegial past. In My Day, what there was was a certain homogeneity of general consensus (a narrow, milky-white substance, the shade of parchment paper, with a manly whiff of cigar smoke) that enabled ‘prickly’, disagreeable issues to be politely swept under the rug or openly mocked if circumstance allowed. Proper places. All in good time and due course. What we could surely agree on, all us right-minded thinkers, is the forward onward upward march of progress. ‘The future, Mister Gittes. The future!’
Turns out, ‘progress’ is as ambiguous and malleable a word as ‘freedom’. A promise of something better to some. An existential threat to others. The difference of opinion is proving to be intractably combustible and destabilizing.