Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Necessary Downturn

L P Hartley famously began The Go-Between with "the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." As the novel opens, the lead character has discovered a box of old things, which he goes through; my generation has stacks of old CDs and zip drives, and maybe even hard drives stuffed in a cupboard. Our children will store their past on rival cloud services, and it will become impossible for the past to become the past, because it will always be there, indexed for install recall. In my experience the past is mostly junk, not worth revisiting.

Did they do things differently there? The technology was slower and more limited, and the circumstances were not the same, but people do not change. The past was not a foreign country at all, it is instead the empty dead wasteland of Stephen King's The Langoliers, just waiting for the monsters to come and sweep it away. As a means of self-improvement contemplating the past is a rare opportunity to view oneself as a stranger; but the shock of the new doesn't last, and although we know more than we did then, we are trapped within ourselves. It is said that the tragedy of mankind is that we do not learn from history, but I maintain that we learn too well. When a fresh solution would be appropriate, we dig through the past and dig up the same old answers, and bang our heads against the wall just as before.

It has been a very long time since I owned a television. The internet has more channels. But for a while I owned a television card, a device that plugged into one of the slots inside my PC and beamed television to my monitor. Fuzzy, poorly-defined analogue television, molested by interference from the computer's circuits, but the pictures were clearer than streaming online media of the time and there was no buffering. It just so happened that this coincided with the September 11 attacks and the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. I took screen grabs of the things I saw, almost at random, and here are some of them, twelve years later.

The B-52 entered service in 1955, and has long been dramatic shorthand for serious business. It is never used lightly, it does not go gently. It will remain in service until at least 2040. It is stronger than men and was built to last longer than men.

The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy were irritated by the first Gulf War, and by the presentation of warfare as an exciting live television spectacle, with the crosshairs on the building - or the man - and then the camera is saturated by the explosion and everything seems to go black and white. By the 2000s, live footage of bomb drops and murky green images recorded with night vision equipment had become part of the visual language of war, but now the bombs are as likely to be dropped from afar, by a man in an air conditioned trailer controlling a fleet of robot drones. The Space Shuttle had five onboard computers, which checked each other's decisions in order to guard against a malfunction in any one computer. Human lives are already entrusted to computers; there will come a time when death is entrusted to them as well. The future will be clean, and nothing will be anybody's fault.





Es ist heute morgen kalt, nicht ist es?

So that's where I saw it first