It’s me, Suchandrika Chakrabarti!
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Let’s get into Part 2! If you need a reminder, here’s Part 1.
(Looking Northeast over 42nd Street from Level 3 of Port Authority Bus Terminal at 8th Avenue, early 80’s New York, photo by David Forshtay, yes this is a photo!!)
We’re on course for the best summer ever, apparently. I’m not making any firm plans or booking any international travel just yet, but every unseasonably sunny February day we get in London, like today, does fill up my little store of hope just a bit more.
Having spent the pandorica in Zone 2 London, I’m reminded of how faraway my Zone 6 childhood is from my current life and the centre of town, from the places where people actually walk and build a sense of a community from just saying hello to each other as we pass each other by every morning.
[Caveat: as much as that’s possible in a city that’s so big, and mostly too expensive and has given up power to the landlords, so becoming too transient for real community in most parts]
So, I’m envious of writer Rivka Galchen’s child, and her intense inner-city Manhattan childhood. “Now my child is a native New Yorker. The pandemic will be over one day. She will again make her way up a very crowded Eighth Avenue. New businesses will open. Maybe, years from now, she will wonder what happened to these irreplaceable days.”
Maybe. The future is unimaginable - we can’t know what it will look like, although I don’t believe there will be as seismic a change in the next generation as there has been for this one. I’m talking about the internet, of course, and mass access to it. Our parents could never have known it was coming, but we’ve lived through its introduction now, and we’re used to technology evolving ever-faster and snapping at our heels. We’ve all seen Black Mirror.
Galchen’s article collided beautifully for me with this one on the 20th anniversary / birthday / memeday of the All Your Base Are Belong To Us meme, by Bijan Stephen:
“Watching it now, 20 years later, the thing that stands out to me most is how culturally dated the video feels. It’s from the era of internet culture when the whole joke was getting the reference; back then, the internet was much harder to access and not the kind of culture-defining trend machine it eventually became.”
Here it is:
I was not aware of this meme when it first came out. In 2001, I had been on the internet for about 18 months, in a way, because ‘being on the internet’ meant something so completely different then, a bit like how Rivka Galchen’s 8th Ave will be both something and nothing like the 8th Ave her daughter will walk down in a few decades’ time, when the pantone will be but a distant memory… except that the internet was brand new to us in 2001, had never been walked upon, and was anything but the seamless experience that it would grow into.
I’ve often wondered what would’ve happened if we hadn’t experienced both the start of mass internet access and the normalisation of mobile phone ownership (in Europe and the US) at the same time, around the turn of the century. I got my first mobile phone in spring or early summer 1999, because my dad was concerned that he wouldn’t know where to find me as I went on GCSE study leave, despite the fact that I was sure to be with my friends in the queue for the Pizza Hut buffet in Stratford when it opened at midday, most days (we all did just fine in our exams, thanks). I first got onto the internet in autumn that year, when my brother came home from university and described the wonders of the internet to our dad, and suggested that we get it. Always one to take tech advice from his son, Dad went and got it sorted.
In 2001, I had a Nokia 3310, which did not have access to the internet. In 2001, I finished school in June and started university in October, so there was an extended summer break during which I floated about the house I grew up in, trying to read the many books on my reading list for university (I was going to study English Literature, of course).
In 2001, to get onto the internet, I had to make my way to the crappy slow computer that had once been in my dad’s surgery - in its glory days - but now creaked along into old age in our unused dining room. I’m not even sure that we spent Christmas 2000 round that table, only 11 months after my mum had died. I’m not sure any of us would have been able to bear that empty chair; but I can’t remember that Christmas at all. Grief does a number on the old memory.
The internet, the future, could only be found in my world on a computer fading into obsolescence in a room that had lost its joy for us all. But what an exciting future it was. The CD-ROM that would install the internet popped into the extended shelf, then pushed into place, all with satisfyingly clunky sounds. Wifi could never be so pleasing to the touch, in the same way that a smooth ergonomic Apple product can never beat the satisfyingly chunky thwack-thwack-thwack of typing on a PC keyboard for me.
The sound of dial-up - so harsh but oddly joyous when that bouncy sound at 13 seconds kicks in, and haloed by a sense of possibility that only a teenager getting on the internet in 2001 AD could feel - the occasional interruptions from my dad, a GP on call, reminding me that he needed our one phone line for patients to ring him, Bebo.com, MSN Messenger, seeing the names of friends from school lined up in front of my eyes… it was a glimpse into heaven.
Of course, I’ve been spoiled by 20 years+ of continuous developments in internet access and mobile phone technology. My experience of the internet is seamless these days - Netflix figured out how important that was early doors - and I expect that seamlessness as standard. Imagine getting through the panopticon without the internet. Imagine never having been spoiled by the access to all human knowledge that the internet gives us, and still just being happy with libraries.
In that other world, when the pan-DeLorean struck in, say, 1991, we’d be leaving book and magazine orders for the library bike-delivery guys outside our front doors, along with the empty glass bottles for the milkman. Authors would be earning fortunes, churning out books as fast as they can. The street that my parents had moved into in 1982, when I’d been invented but not introduced to the outside world yet, the one that they imagined their kids walking down, like Rivka Galchen’s daughter and 8th Ave, would be empty, ghostly. By the time their kids had got out there again, it might all be different, a street they didn’t recognise.
2021 is unrecognisable to someone on the internet in 2001, let alone someone just going about their day in 1991 or before. The future is just unimaginable. When the kids of today (Rivka Galchen’s daughter of course, and also my nearly-three-year-old niece and my nephew who was born just yesterday) start walking down 8th Avenue and all the other roads that we used to stroll along until a year ago, what will their eyes be fixed on as the summer sunshine beats down? Something other than their phones? I really hope so.
Here’s something that spilled out of me about it, onto a Griefbacon comment thread:
I finished a six-week stand-up comedy course here in London just before lockdown, and we'd been working towards the end-of-term show. Inside the venue, it felt like nighttime; it was your classic dark, dingy basement club, with all your friends packed into the seats, drinking and thrumming with anticipation. Somehow the illusion held, despite the fact that we were in a pub, at street-level, on a Sunday afternoon. I was on first. Two of my friends, a couple, brought their baby, who started mewling as I began my set, bless her heart. Now she can almost speak in sentences. When I came off stage, I went outside with them to hold her and say goodbye. Another friend, pregnant with twins, stayed for the full show, and to watch the rest of us drink as she dodged cigarette fumes in the beer garden. She now lives on an island and her little boys are real people who can walk and make sounds and do things. It had been a dream of mine for years to try stand-up, but a million things like grief and all the sorrows that come with it had got in the way. It was good. It felt good. The comedown afterwards was an education. My friends texted other friends who couldn't come and had perhaps wondered if I'd be any good that it went well. My phone kept buzzing. It felt like the end and the beginning of a certain phase of life, and we didn't even know then that we had a month left until lockdown. The video of that set has really helped me out in a year when live comedy has disappeared, but I would give anything now to go back to that actual day, the electric shock of spotting my friends' faces in the crowd, the insistent gentle feeling that, for once, I'd got something right, and I had something to show for it. I'd like to feel that again, in a packed, dark room smelling of booze.
(If you like the sound of this, please help Angel Comedy keep The Bill Murray open)
That piece on terminal lucidity, wow: For my family, that afternoon with my grandmother was pure joy, almost – almost – balancing out years of sadness
Coming 2 America!! I’m a stand-up comic and a guy who does TV. Eddie is a movie star
Jess Zimmerman’s newsletter is perfection, like gum: This year and counting of Zoom meetings, iMessage socializing, Crowdcast readings, and a Slack-based office has gotten me closer than I’ve ever been to my fond wish of one day being a brain in a jar
Such writing!! And such truth. Never love, it’s the worst: Love is painful sometimes. When you are alone and longing for it, you are at least complete. There is you, and there is your desire, but you are whole, all your passions and wants, hurts and desires are contained unto yourself. But once you truly love someone, once a piece of you is buried inside someone else’s heart, it is as if you are suddenly split into two and you cannot ever be whole again without them
This article about The Wing is approaching its first birthday, please plan accordingly
The 24th March Personal Essays Masterclass is sold out, but you can join the waitlist if you fancy it
I’m a guest on the latest episode of The Week Unwrapped, it’s a really nice discussion about techy things, but in chat-down-the-pub terms (ohhhh PUBS):
I’ve been aunting:
Thank you so much for reading!
If you enjoy my work & fancy buying me a virtual coffee, I’d be delighted (and will hopefully experience a virtual caffeine rush):