G’Bye (requiem for a way of life)

After eight and a half years based in Australia I am returning to England. It’s a tough call, but the commute between Sydney and London finally got to me, especially the occasion, a few months ago, when I did the journey twice in three weeks. Mind you, I did establish that once you’ve got jet lag it’s impossible to get double jet lag. You just get a general blur. Maybe that’s what my friend Ross means when he says jet lag is just your soul trying to catch up with your body.

What will I miss? I will miss getting back from work and throwing myself into a pool. I will miss decent coffee, year-round BBQs, fresh mangoes, insects with attitude, properly aged meat (Victor Churchill, Queen Street), the smell of eucalyptus after a rain storm, people that say “thank you” to bus drivers when they hop off and a handful of thoughtful and interesting people.

I will miss the sea, the openness and the optimism of the Australians too. Also, the “She’ll be right mate” attitude. The “Fair go” (everyone is entitled to have a go at anything, regardless of background or position). I will also miss the sun and the space. I think these last two are a fundamental cause of the enduring (“no worries”) optimism. The light is hard in Australia but there is softness to the people. Even when things get tough there is still (generally) the thought that you can walk down to the (clean) beach and smile at a stranger and there is every chance that they will smile straight back at you.

What am I looking forward to? Someone (we’ll call him Oliver because that’s his name) once said that the best two things about Australia are leaving it and coming back. I think it’s the same with England. I am looking forward to seeing more of a handful of interesting and thoughtful people, but the best thing about England is what Donald Rumsfeld once called ‘”old Europe.”

For an (alleged) futurist I am strangely attracted to the old and Europe does old in abundance. This gets me thinking. One of the reasons I have a love/hate relationship with the digital age is that digital things have no trace of discernable history. Digital content is always pristine. It is not degraded by time and all copies are exactly the same. Hence, ‘digital’ has no discernable character.

Let me give you an example. I have a few albums from the 1970s and 1980s that have be worn by the hands of time. There are marks on the covers that tell particular stories and scratches on the records themselves that give each and every one a unique character and narrative. My digital music collection, on the other hand, is largely invisible and is uniquely devoid of personality.

It’s the same with photographs. I have photos that are fifty years old that are slowly fading to nothing, much like many of their subjects. I also have a handful of Polaroid photos taken in the 1970s that are similarly fading, although it is the memory of the talking of each photograph that I remember the most. I can remember the sound – even the smell – of some of these photographs.

When film was expensive we took care about what we photographed. Similarly, the theatre of seeing a photograph develop slowly before one’s eyes (Polaroid film if you are much under thirty) is still imprinted in my memory. Even popping a film in the post and waiting a week or more for the photos to be developed (”some day my prints will come”) had a perverse appeal.

So what have we got nowadays? Well the taking of photos costs next to nothing so we don’t think very much about what we are taking photographs of. Equally, while we shoot almost anything, we print virtually nothing. And we don’t back up our ‘collections’ of photographs very much either, do we? I guess the deal here is that we have traded an intensity of seeing for convenience.

Maybe books will go the same way. We will download them from invisible libraries for 99 cents a shot (shades of Dickens Tuppeny Tales?). Once read they will sit on invisible shelves displaying no hint as to where they have been or by whom they were once read.

Again, the pay off will be that we may end saving lots of time but not having anything of value that is worth saving. We will end up living lives where everything we do, see or come into contact with will be captured digitally, but in the end these lives will be totally devoid of meaningful or memorable content.

Must go…got another plane to catch.

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2 Responses to G’Bye (requiem for a way of life)

  1. Olga says:

    Hello, Richard. Welcome from the good

  2. Olga says:

    sorry, technology let me down… 🙂
    Congratulations on the move and hope British weather will not dissapoint you too much. I would be interested to catch up with you on your consultansy projects (scenario planning, horison scanning). How can I contact you in the UK? Thanks

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