Someday Soon

By Ian White
September 10, 2010

The first time you see the signs of a generational shift in someone younger than yourself, it’s both a shock and an almost material difference. Which is ironic when pretty much all the indicators of this difference are contained in this younger generation’s aptitude in managing the immaterial, their digital dexterity. After this it’s not like you want to hang on to anything analogue (like books, for example), just for the sake of it. And actually I hate the British Library anyway. You go there and every architectural feature, every detail, has been so precisely conceived and realized to render the reader physically and psychologically obedient that I immediately want to be the violent opposite. There are single-file escalators that always work. The contents of your regulation transparent bags are checked on your way in and out, computers opened, your books flicked through. All the details are smug with a pacifying luxury (handrails wrapped in leather, your personal light switch doesn’t make a click), the chairs are ample and everywhere there are perfect squares—patterned over the forecourt, cut into banisters, the shape of windows, everywhere. There’s nothing more stultifying than looking at a perfect square because there’s nowhere to go when you’re in it. And this is what They want. It’s no life.

Now, I like books, but privately I can understand how for a new generation libraries have become evil places. Full of books, yeah, but sites of restriction, control, exclusion, empty promises, somebody else’s idea about the idea of education and emancipation that works on paper.

What’s it going to take for the Internet to become just such a "place"? Generational difference, maybe. Reaching the point when YOU look down and notice something immaterial and tangibly other and you realize that "freedom," this searching for everything because you can and talking to everybody like you because they’re there—they are (and regardless you want a sex life)—has actually stumped you in a furrow of four gay cruising Web sites, four e-mail accounts, one webcam site from which you’re banned and a bit of BBC Radio 4. And you are stuck in it. Like, on YouTube I keep looking for illicit documentations of chorus lines in the work of Pina Bausch because I’ve seen some of them live, but they’re not there, just a drawn blank, and the only thing I’m bumping into all the time is "The Man I Love," like a double-blank of learning that doesn’t help even while it does.

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