Friday, July 13, 2012

Suburban purgatory and the power of Google

I've two columns out today. The first is on the ABC: 'Surviving the suburban purgatory of the school run'. It looks at the daily school run, and why it's "such a f*cking drag," to quote Gwyneth Paltrow. A sample:
Pickup can also be a kind of suburban purgatory, sadly short on Virgils. For example, schoolyard chit-chat is often a distinctive combination of banality and urgency. Icelandic sagas of overtime renovations ("And Sigurd the Swearing plumber supplied Tuscan taps..."), battle cries to join excursions, ritual combat decided quietly with tip-toeing faux-agreement - there is an epic tone to many of the conversations, which is at odds with the triviality of the speech. 
The point is not that the issues themselves are pointless; that ordinary suburban life is without anxiety and pain, celebration and joy. This is simply a caricature of plastic bourgeois unreality, which denies the facts of adult existence. 
The point is that the conversations do not do these facts justice; that the social atmosphere is inimical to reflection and expression, in which the universe is squeezed and, however tentatively, rolled toward an overwhelming question.
The second column, is in the Canberra Times: 'Too easy for Google stuff to fill our vacant minds'.  On my recent trip to Canada, I was amazed by Google's services - either free or dirt cheap. It suggested just how powerful they are - and it's worth asking why. A sample:
My point is not to herald the coming electronic apocalypse, or to blame Google for our own restlessness or boredom. My point is that Google's profits and power partly come from our willingness to be vacantly amused. They are the middleman between information junkies and their pushers, advertising wares in Google Mail, and in every search result. 
There is nothing wrong with amusement, of course - as ''delete fiction'' or lolcats, it can be a way to rest or refresh weary minds. And the ubiquity of distraction is not some Matrix plot. The only conspiracy is existential: the mind in harried flight from itself. But alongside their more utilitarian roles, Google and its information-age peers also make diversion more efficient; make the electronic ''high'' easier, faster and more addictive. At the very least, they are symptoms of the distraction disease.
(Illustration: Erik Wawerczyk)

1 comment:

genevieve said...

HEH. I am enjoying all the comments at that purgatory article, as well as its excellent composition, as always.(Love the riff on Tom E.)