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13 January 2010

Crackpot Theory No. 576858565

Ooh. I suddenly realised.

Well, how to explain? Having been dropped into a timeline at a kind of random point, like everyone else, I thought things (what things... individuality, unique personalities, whackiness) were increasing, when actually there are two mechanisms. One, the one I thought was increasing, is actually decreasing. It's decreasing because of increased social and entertainment technologies and through the break-downs of societal taboos and things like manners. The technologies have a kind of homogenising/diluting effect as individual traits of whackiness and extremism disperse through the population of the world, and are no longer hidden. The increased population and decrease in manners create pressure on people to conform. The isolated places with homegrown personalities and tolerance for nuttiness, or actually nuttiness not being regarded as nuttiness at all, get fewer all the time. And by nuttiness I suppose I mean unique, not crazy, ways of behaving. There's a more predictable experience™ but all that does is give the lawless more room to maneuvre.

The generation which would be about 110 or 20 years old (except they all died) always seemed to me to be an amazing group of people. My friend Harold, sent off to live in an orphanage as a boy, had acted there in many Gilbert & Sullivan operettas and knew all the words and would sing them at the drop of a hat. He was called in, one day, to speak with the headmaster, who asked him what he would like to learn as a trade. He stammered that he didn't know. "What did your father do?" "He was a naval architect." So Harold became a naval architect and built ships in Tien Sien, China. When the Japanese invaded he was dressing for dinner and kept the commanding officer kicking his heels for half an hour. He was a virgin until he was in his 40s (he told me) and met an American nurse; they married and settled in California, and a whole new set of extraordinary things happened. He'd always been First Foot, and indeed I was a guest one New Year's Eve and let him in :-D He said he'd been first foot every year, and if a year came when he wasn't first foot he'd die, which is what happened.
And he wasn't anyone special.

Mildred was another friend of similar age. She grew up ironing tablecloths and serving diners who arrived by tour boat at her parents' resort on the Hood Canal. As a young woman she taught at a one room schoolhouse, and I can just barely remember a story she told of the man who was supposed to pick her up on arrival not doing so, and Mildred having to walk through the wilderness and hearing the screams of a mountain lion close by. I believe she almost fell into a big hole, too. At the school she taught a group of exhuberant children who, one day, sneaked into the schoolhouse and nailed down everything on her desk. Arriving early the next morning, she discovered what had been done and un-nailed everything - never saying a word once the students came in. They were perplexed, Mildred had an internal laugh, and when she reached for her ruler she discovered it was nailed down - she'd missed it in her rush. Then she moved to Paris to study sculpting with Maillol. She shared living quarters with a Russian woman, and at times when the rooms were filled with nothing but Russian speakers felt meek and misunderstood. She was called home by her parents, and accompanied the corpse of a young friend on his journey home on an ocean liner. Later she had a cabin across the canal from her parents, and one night, while being rowed across by someone, the lantern blew out and the moon on the water revealed a pod of oh, she called them bluefish or blackfish, I forget - but they were orcas. Then she moved to New York and worked at Sloan-Kettering (and had some amazing stories from there), and had a friend who worked for the Annenbergs. This friend needed time off for something like an operation or something, but was frightened of losing her job so Mildred filled in for her as a nanny to a very spoiled little boy. Full of disgust (and she had tales to back up her feeling), she would wrinkle her nose when she spoke of the Annenbergs. She would take a red wagon to buy the Sunday papers, as they were so big :-D Then she moved to Taxco, Mexico (she had all her teeth pulled before she went: "Oh, WHY did I do that," she'd say.) And so on. That's just the beginning.

It's clear that they were amazing and probable, too, that they seemed amazing because they were the elders I knew best; if I'd known those who were born in, say, the 1850s I might've compared the two, but I didn't. The world, for at least some, was functioning in a kind of Beta stage. Things were working, the feeling was effervescent and they were full of joy and hope. We seem to be in a kind of 2010 SL world right now, so maybe watching where we go in VR will shed light on things to come in the world.


posted by - 8:18 PM

i love these stories. wish i had the energy to remember and write about some of the stories of people i've known too. maybe eventually i will. not sure i agree with your theory, it is so hard to tell as you say we were born into this time period. the rise of 'artisanal' products, local cheeses, beer, wine, baked goods, etc for some reason gives me hope that as things become homogeneous, creativity continues to bubble up from below.
No - we look at things backwards. In order for there to be peace and a coming together there have to be fewer differences, not more. And who says even I believe in my theories? They are just ideas. I don't have the belief knack.
You must agree, though, that technology has created a bed of common experiences and memories shared by enormous numbers of people globally (Homer Simpson ftw).
and you also see the individualization of everything, which is good for commerce. everyone has their very own whatever...everyone used to watch the same tv show at night and hear the same radio broadcast in the morning, and read the same newspaper...for example.
what about homer? i've never seen that show, tho i know about the donuts and such.
"..everyone used to watch the same tv show at night and hear the same radio broadcast in the morning..." I think that occurred in a VERY small period of time, and it was local not global.

I agree that it's great (esp for musicians) that there are tech ways to disseminate work that falls outside the rigid and meagre number of styles defined by "popular." However I don't think people are unaware of all the other music, they just have the means to chose. The vastness has become part of the shared social bedrock.

My point, in a way, is that I have tended to see homogenisation as a bad thing (because of my own life), when in fact it's the only way to get from "here" (my village is all I know so I will kill you) to "there" (we share so much that I immediately know you). Once we all share X amount it's only possible to like/dislike based on individual habits, somewhat like a sibling.
Exhibit A:

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