Sunday, 10 January 2016

The world is stranger

I mean it. I remembered when I was a kid  - and by kid I'm thinking teenager - everything seemed a lot simpler. And this is despite the fact I was at University studying astrophysics.

Now before you go any further I want to let you know something. This might verge towards sentimentality and is probably best avoided so if you choose to read any further I am not accepting any responsibility. I'm also going to meander as I' not sure where all this is going. To quote a good friend of mine, this is about to go a bit stream of consciousness on you.

Now my brain is an odd thing. It thinks about stuff. Tonight I gave it some decent stimulation to go thinking. I finished watching a documentary on the Jam, an English pop band who in their (too) short career went from a punky style outfit on In the City, through mod inspired for All Mod Cons, Beatles influenced on Sound Affects to end with a Soul album par excellence with the Gift. I loved each and every one of these albums and still do. (As well as the ones I've not mentioned, the Modern World and Setting Suns.)

So once it was done I started to remember what like was like and simpler was the one word that cane to mind. And no I'm not going to end this with saying it was better. There are many, many things I like about today's world (and a lot I don't but that's a different matter) so my point is going be it's different now.

I did my degree before the internet. I studied by going to a library, finding books and reading them; then checking the references in those books and going off to find yet more books. Wikipedia would have made this so much easier, even if there is always the nagging fear in my head of quoting something from the internet that turns out to be incorrect.

I read something that might be real, might be urban myth about an article being made up online, a j
journalist finding the piece of information that the made up article included and using it in a piece that is then published, resulting in the original (and still fictitious) online article having a citation added quoting the journalist's article. It's a bit circular and freaky but possible. Not sure I believe it though. And then I consider the fact that just because it had been printed in a book back in the 80s doesn't mean it was true then. Hmm.

I was pondering my life - taking the last few days as a segment in time example of it. I have interacted with so many different media that just did not exist or were very underused in comparison to today's world since the start of this year it's unbelievable.

The documentary I mentioned was on Sky Arts - a satellite channel. I could have watched the same either online on Sky's website or via a cable TV service. I've watched YouTube videos on this computer, on an iPad, an Android pad, an iPhone, a Windows Phone (forget the type) and a Samsung
S6.

If anyone cares these YouTube videos were either music from bands like Tangerine Dream, They Might be Giants, Rush, Dream Theater, Kansas, Queen, Genesis and a few others or Screen Junkies / Honest Trailers or a vlogger I actually don't mind called Emily Hartridge who does a show called 10 Reasons Why. Oh and I've watched a bit of Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye and other science/atheist types - I tend to do that.

And then I come to the other stuff. I've sent and received emails, tweeted (find me at https://twitter.com/ielester), blogged (self evident this one), played an annoying word game on my iPhone, used Facebook (sparingly), tumblr (I post mostly book covers - if you want to go see http://edmundlester.tumblr.com/). I've sent text messages, had conversations on my mobile while walking around Tesco, sent a Skype message or two, downloaded TV shows to my Sky Box and many other such techno things I'm not remembering.

And I've even managed to find some time in amongst all this technology using to read an actual book. That was something I definitely did a lot more of back in my youth.

Like I said earlier. I'm not going to say it was better back then. It wasn't. I like all this new tech, especially the stuff that could help us all live longer and healthier. And I like being able to look up the name of an actor playing an obscure part in a Danish TV show I happen to be watching because I think I may have seen him play an equally obscure part in a different Danish TV show I watched earlier.

IMDB, like SatNavs in my opinion, have saved us from many arguments over the years. So that in and of itself is a good argument for today being better than the simpler time I was remembering.

It's not all good though. I still miss vinyl being the main way you got music. I know I can still go out and buy vinyl and I have started to buy old vinyl again after many years of regretting selling my collection. But there was a time when I was a younger teenager, so still at home living with my parents, when pretty much every Saturday involved catching the bus or train from where I lived into Birmingham where all the record shops and book shops were and buying that week's new prized possession.

Now before you start to think I was a spoilt kid whose parents just gave me money, I was not. Okay they did the pocket money thing but that was always saved to be used as spending money on holidays. The records were bought with the moneys I earned working before school, or a couple of evenings during the week, or later on Saturday mornings in the local Supermarket collecting trolleys or stacking shelves - like many other teenagers I'm sure. This was the source of the record and book buying funds.

I was voracious. A good week would see me come home with a new LP by a band like the Jam (where we started above), the Kinks, the Who, the Rolling Stones, the Small Faces, the Beach Boys or, to move away from mod music, Yes, Pink Floyd, Iron Maiden, Tom Waits, Frank Zappa, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Bruce Springsteen, Kiss, Led Zeppelin, Rush, Fairport Convention, Deep Purple, Beatles, Blondie, or god knows how many other bands I bought.

That sentence went on a bit so I stopped it before mentioning the books. Authors I was rushing through in those days included Isaac Asimov, Michael Moorcock, Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Edmund Cooper, Lester del Rey, Stephen Donaldson, Terry Brooks, David Eddings, Graham Masterton, James Herbert, Stephen King (obviously), and again I could go on.

Today I am spared the need to have to go find all this. I can go online and order them, either to arrive through my letterbox or, if I abandoned my love of the physical, downloaded onto my devices. Is this better? I'm not sure. I miss the days when you would sit on the bus on the way home and could see the other people who'd just bought themselves and you'd talk to them - common interests and all that.

The modern equivalents, Amazon recommendations and Look Inside instead of browsing and the various communal sites that allow people to interact through their keyboards and webcams take care of the random encounters you would have on buses and in the stores themselves. Like I said, different.

I said at the top of this I wasn't sure where it was going. I'm still not. I don't think I'll be any the wiser by the time I hit Publish. It probably doesn't matter.

I find myself as I grow older becoming more liberal. I don't pine for the old days and decry anything modern as inferior. Try living through school holidays of endless rain when the three (yes, only three) TV stations all closed down during the day, there were no games consoles or video recorders (precursor of DVD/Blu-Ray for anyone too young to remember BETAMAX or VHS) and then tell me it was better.

I miss some things about the past and the joy I had at finding new (to me) music is definitely one of them. I still get that joy when I find something new and exciting (it still is even though I am getting dangerously close to entering my sixth decade) but I have heard so much now it happens rarely these days. Listening to good music, even if for the eight hundredth time is still uplifting but nothing beats that new discovery.

I've just tried to think who the last artist was I discovered and I'm struggling to remember who it was. It's probably a decade ago. I've bought odd albums by new artists in that time and thought they were good, but nothing has lit that fire in me that made me go buy everything they'd done. The last time was probably when I discovered the Flower Kings or Ayreon. Maybe 2016 will be the year I hear something I didn't previously know.

It's different with writers. although I read far less these days, possibly due to having written four novels and three novellas in the last year which has taken up a lot of the time I might otherwise have been reading, but I have continued to discover new writers. Authors like Zoran Živković and Max Barry have come into my radar view in that time and I have acquired everything they've written - or with the former, everything so far translated in to English.

I've also had one other joy that the modern world has enabled me to have in that I discovered the wonderful world of Nordic Noir, in film and TV form at least. I have read one Nordic Noir (Dragon Tattoo) and can see why it is so highly rated but it is TV shows like the Killing and the Bridge that have been my thing. Without the explosion of TV channels from the three, which didn't broadcast for much of the day) of my childhood, to the hundreds with 24 hour coverage showing programmes from all over the globe. How else could I have enjoyed the Norwegian black comedy of Dag without satellite channels?

I like modern life. I like its convenience but I miss the simplicity we had before it all existed. Was life really so bad before Instagram or SnapChat? No. Is it terrible now we have it all? No. It's just different.

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