December 17, 2006

Rambling thoughts while I wait for my plane…

The first few minutes I’ve had in quite some time, to sit, relax, and reflect on the past few weeks. Somehow or another December turned into a whirlwind of activity, and now as I wait for my flight to board I'm taking advantage of one of the first few moments I’ve had to write without having anything more important to do. Or rather, there’s a great deal I could be doing if I had internet access, but in fact as I write this I’m offline. It’s a terrible thing being offline.

For years I would turn on the tv or the radio first thing when I wake up, and I would do many things with the constant hum of the mainstream media droning in the background. Is it some primitive desire to feel a part of the larger community manifesting; that while I live in a city of eight million I turn the tv on so I don’t feel alone?

I’ve never liked feeling isolated, from the news in particular. When explaining these sentiments to my friend Craig one day, he summed up the feeling as not wanting to miss anything. “You have the tv on in case there’s an emergency?” he once asked me. Not necessarily an emergency, but certainly breaking news -- I subscribe to several different news alert services, and get flashes via email and cell phone text messages, and I check newsfeeds every time I pass by a computer screen, all to ensure I'm current.

Sitting here offline makes me a little crazy… thankfully I still have my blackberry going. But what the hell is with the lack of free wireless internet access? I’ve had certain opinions forming over the past few years, wildly influenced by the extraordinary amount of time I’ve spent browsing the internet during the same time period, and my thoughts on our civilization and what will be most important to us in the immediate future fall into one of two essential categories: our access to information, and the editorial control over the information we access. Whether it’s issues of privacy, digital rights management, copyright and intellectual property concerns, net-neutrality, AT&T’s re-consolidation and cooperation with the NSA, or even something simple as free wireless internet access, I’m hypersensitive to the presumptions made by both commercial enterprises and consumers regarding our place in society.

Specifically, I am highly conscious of the amount of time we spend each day being marketed to, sold to, and outright lied to in the pursuit of our income. I’m very aware of the commercialization of our society, and how the pursuit of sponsorship dollars has impacted our daily lives. What began with stadium naming rights and other sports-related patronage has insidiously metastasized into all areas of our daily lives, and I worry about what that does to us. Or specifically, I worry that I know just what that does - that we are being conditioned to be zombie-consumers, conditioned to be wage slaves selling our soul to the company store.

So when an airport, which could easily provide free wireless access for its customers (and even limit it to only its customers through the use of boarding pass number-based logins, for instance) instead chooses to charge $9.95 a day, that frustrates the crap out of me. In my mind, it’s the equivalent of a restaurant charging for a glass of water. There are some things which I believe should be understood amongst civilized peoples, some things which I believe come as part of the “being a human” package here in the industrialized west: every human is entitled to clean drinking water free of charge, and in the 21st century, we should have free internet access already.

Now, I’m not saying we're all entitled to ubiquitous, powerful broadband; it doesn’t have to be premium service, and if you want to make a buck, then there’s where you make it -- in the upgrade from the basic free service to the better, stronger, faster pay service. No, what I'm taking issue with is the insistence on nickel-and-diming us to death, on earning a penny on every exchange, on treating us as perma-customers instead of fellow citizens wherever possible, that’s what makes me nuts. There are some things that should be done because everyone benefits when they are done, and not every interaction should be a seen as a profit-making opportunity.

But back to my travel… as much as I’d like to be able to bash the TSA and go on a rant about privacy and the loss of our rights and freedoms, this is my second flight this month and so far they’ve been nothing but professional and kind to me despite my being less than charming to them. All the horror stories I’ve read about recently on the ‘Net have prepared me for rough treatment, but I’ve seen nothing of the kind. In fact, I wouldn’t mind if they’d stick the kid who’s screaming his head off right now into one of those gray bins and x-ray the crap out of him until he quiets the fuck down, but even screaming children don’t appear to rile them up, which I just can’t understand… But anyway, despite dealing with my last minute change of plans as to which bags are being checked, the TSA has been professional and courteous and most importantly, efficient. I can’t complain, which of course gives me something to complain about, because I hate not being able to complain.

Just goes to show you, we can adapt to anything. I often reflect on what life might have been like for our grandparents who lived in a time when people could walk right into buildings without showing id, when they could stroll right onto airplanes (while smoking, no less) without having to shuffle through a metal detector with belt in one hand, holding their pants up with the other, their shoes being x-rayed separately for their protection...

I love living in the 21st century, and I’m in awe of modern-day miracles like laser eye surgery, but at what cost? I wax reflective on simpler times...

“Mister, you can conquer the air… but the clouds will smell like gasoline, and the birds will lose their wonder…” – Lawrence and Lee, Inherit the Wind

Eh, who am I kidding? Simpler times, yet I can’t go two hours without checking my email.


At 3:17 PM, Blogger Adriaan said...

And so your wish was granted.

At 7:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Once upon a time you obsessively checked your sitemeter again and again and again. That passed. So too will pass your need to always be "current". Oh, it may take thirty years or so, but it will happen. Trust me!


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