Fuel For Writing

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything on Auxiliary Memory.  I’ve started several essays but never finished any.  I also started a diet. I’ve notice over the years that there’s a relationship between calories and the number of words I produce.  Cookies, cokes, cakes and candy fuel my mind for writing.  Dieting leaves my brain lethargic, suitable only for watching TV.  And man have I been watching TV this past two weeks!  I’ve seen 33 episodes of Battlestar Galactica.  I had to boost my Netflix from 1 disc at a time to 3 to keep up with my hunger for more shows, watching up to 4 episodes a night.

The difference between being active and passive is junk food.  But since I’ve ballooned to 237 pounds I can’t keep feeding my creative drive.  And those healthy fruits and vegetables just don’t stoke the fire to crank out words.  I’ve got to find some kind of discipline to get back into writing.  Without sweet calories, I guess I need to learn how to push myself by will-power alone.

Of course, I’ve got to ask myself why write at all?  Not to mention the fact that I’ve been mentally beating myself up for the last couple years for writing on the blog instead of working on fiction.  Blog writing is like practicing the piano.  It’s very good for mental health.  For the last decade I’ve been forgetting more and more words, and even how to pronounce them.  When I started blog writing that boosted my ability to remember.

Getting old has other side affects besides the slowing of brain access speeds.  There is a tendency to solidify thoughts in old age, so if you’re not careful you’ll parrot your frozen opinions whenever a response is needed.  Exploring concepts in a blog helps break down comfortable old opinions into their basic parts so you can start over and remodel the rooms in your brain.

All this new thinking requires energy and time.  My best time to write is mornings, but Monday through Friday I have work, and often on the weekends I have personal obligations.  Writing at night requires lots of extra calories.  The obvious solution is to get up at 4 or 5 in the morning and write before work, but right now I don’t have that kind of discipline.  My body naturally wants to sleep until 6:30 am when the cats start meowing for their breakfast.

There are alternative fuels for writing.  Sometimes playing loud music can stimulate my brain cells.  Other times reading an inspiring article and taking a short nap to digest the thoughts will get me to jump up and start writing.  I’ve never had the mental energy to write like a professional writer, that is to stick to writing like working a 9 to 5.  Real writers can write when they’re not in the mood, or when they lack the energy.  Real writers can’t not write, but I don’t have that demon.

One way or another I’ve got to find the energy to write.  I would be tempted by artificial stimulants, but my old body can’t even handle caffeine anymore.  I know I can’t stop writing because my mind would quickly start sliding downhill again.

JWH – 3/29/9

Blogging, WordPress and the Future

I’ve been blogging for awhile.  I started with LiveJournal, and then moved to WordPress on my hosted site, and finally to WordPress.com.  I like the convenience of WordPress.com maintaining everything, and I’m developing a wish-list of desired features I hope they will roll out in the near future.

First, let’s think about blogging in general.  The basic idea is to write a post and get comments.  Older posts are pushed down and stored away, and the general method used to find these older stories is either by categories, search box or calendar grouping.  It’s pretty effective for what it does, but I wonder if other methods might be developed to organize the overall site and expand the theoretically limits of what it means to blog.  WordPress is constantly adding new widgets, so their structure is built around adding features, so this post is going to suggest some features I want and imagine where I’d like blogging to evolve in the future.

Paid For Feature Modules

I don’t know if I can expect all my desired features for free, but what if each module was a paid add-on or part of a plus service?  I have no idea how WordPress makes its money.  It’s a great free service that doesn’t appear to use ads and what few add-on features they do sell don’t look like big revenue generators.

Some of the features I’m wishing for could be part of a $49.95/year plus package.  I’ve invested a lot of time in WordPress, so I don’t mind paying.  I don’t want them to go bust – I want WordPress to be around for generations to come.  I assume WordPress wants to maintain their current marketing plan of offering a free service, but I can picture my blogging needs expanding, and I imagine so do others.

Right now there are too many Web 2.0 services.  I can share my thoughts on WordPress, my photos on Picasa, computer work on Zoho.com, friendships on Facebook.com, genealogy on Ancestry.com, my book lists on LibraryThing.com, and so on. 

What I’d like is one place to present the digital me.  MySpace and Facebook want that place to be their services, but I’m not happy with those sites.  They are too restricting.  What I want is one place to combine all the features, and for now I’m thinking my blogging home at WordPress.com is the place to start.  I have no idea if the people who produce WordPress want to be such an enterprise, but I’m guessing my desires are just part of an evolutionary process on the web and somebody will offer them.

The Digital Me 

Let’s think of a blog as an analog for a person’s life.  Right now blogs model people with the diary format.  Before computers, memoirs and autobiographies were two ways to convey a person’s life.  However, those formats depend on linear progress and some random discovery.  When you meet someone at a party you don’t get to know them in a start at the beginning, end at the end, fashion.  Generally you start talking about a subject, and this is covered by blogging with categories.  But if you’ve ever been to a blog site of someone you like to read and they have a long list of categories it’s not very inviting.  And if their current three posts are all boring then you’ll get the wrong idea, even if they wrote a brilliant post just before that.

Science fiction has for years imagined artificial beings or speculated on machines recording people’s minds and converting them into computer beings in artificial worlds.  I’m thinking a blog could be something like that – a download of your personality.  But you need a face to represent the whole of your being.

Table of Contents

Magazines use their covers and table of contents to promote their top stories, hoping an eye catching headline will get you to buy a whole magazine and read the rest of the issue.  However, magazines are not good structures to model a person’s complete life, but the TOC could be a good format to use for an introduction, or your face.  Home pages on blogs take you to the latest post.  I’m wondering if WordPress could create a Table of Contents page to use as the default home page, something that would combine the features of the About page and table of contents, to welcome blog visitors and help bloggers introduce themselves, giving guests a bigger picture of what you are like.  Also, let this page have more layout options, use a 2-3 column HTML table to organize the structure, and allow the maximum customization. 

Since the word categories is already used, have an organizing unit called “Projects” to be a super-group above categories.  I like the word “projects” because I like to think of organizing my life into projects.  Marketing people might come up with a better word.  Maybe tie it in with major personality traits.   Here’s an example of what I mean.  For the Table of Contents page have several user-created Topics or Projects called Family, Friends, Work, Hobbies, Travel, and Reviews.  Under Reviews I might have category listings for Audio Books, Books, Movies, Television Shows, Music, etc.  Under Family I might have categories for Parents, Wife, Kids, Genealogy, etc.  Then allow each Topic/Project to have an icon or small photo in the layout, so visitors at a glance can see how the blog writer organizes his or her life.

TimeLine

Another fun format to add would be the TimeLine – something to help people remember when and were things happened.  Since people have imprecise memories, you’d have to have a Date field that could handle  years, months, seasons, and days.  I don’t think hours and seconds would be needed.  (Fall 1949, 12/7/82, January 1971, 1963.)  Users could enter birthdays for family, and then school years and schools.  That way people could quickly know how old they were in a during a particular school year, or what years they worked as a bag boy.  Bloggers could enter dates for when they met people, got jobs, saw concerts, had children, went on vacations, etc.  Additional fun features would be hyperlinks to web sites that show the TV schedules, top news, best selling books, big movies, etc. for each year to help prompt memories.

Lists

I like keeping a list of the books I’ve read, my favorites, the ones I own, favorite songs, my CD library, favorite movies, DVDs, movies seen, etc.  Lots of people are list makers, and so having a list making module would be awful cool.  Like the TimeLine module above, this would force WordPress to get into the database business, which moves them more into the Zoho.com type service.  WordPress could offer both custom database applications and do-it-yourself kits.

Genealogy

Blogs are about people.  I use my blog to help remember things.  One of the things I’ve always meant to get into is genealogy – but not in a big way.  What would be amusing for blogging is to enter enough information so it links to other genealogy sites and to other bloggers, so when you meet people you can glance at their ancestry and maybe check if you’re related.  If this linkage grew eventually we’d be able to say to our blogs, “show a family blogging tree.”

Who Is Your Blog For?

When you’re typing away at your blog posts do you do it for friends, strangers, or yourself?  I call my blog Auxiliary Memory because I’m getting more forgetful all the time.  I really would like to use my blog as a supplemental brain.  If WordPress had the security, I’d even like to save private information on my blog.  Not bank account numbers, but just data only I would want to see when I’m trying to remember something, maybe something personal like address books, Christmas card lists, work and home To-Do lists, etc.  I’d also like to keep my last will and testament and parting thoughts, so when I die, especially unexpected, I can leave some last messages.

Now do you see what I mean when I think of a blog as a digital analog of myself?  Right now blogs are a collection basket for thoughts, but it could collect other personal items, like photographs.

Photos and Time and Place

There are plenty of online photo galleries for people to share their pictures, but I’d like one integrated into WordPress.  Why separate thoughts from images.  I’d like to tie photographs to the TimeLine and to the Genealogy.  Currently we enter posts by today’s date and time, but I’d like to be offered a field that would let me enter posts for past dates and time, that way I could organize my photographs chronologically, and work to remember the past.

It’s quite obvious what would happen if you could link photos to genealogies.  I’d also like to link photos to streets and cities, and I would like to connect to other people to share photos linked by time and place.  I moved around a lot when I was a kid.  Imagine putting all my photos from Maine Avenue when I lived at Homestead Air Force Base from 1962-63 into the system and someday getting a message from long lost friends who went to Air Base Elementary with me?

Photo Rotation and Linking

Right now we get one photo for our header to represent our personality.  It would be great to draw from a pool, so on some pages visitors would see images from a random rotation from the pool of personal or stock photos and for other pages, specific photos to go with the content of the post.

This would be a nightmare to roll out for WordPress.  It’s much easier to manage the system when there’s a limited number of templates for users to build their sites.  For this to be practical, WordPress needs to designate certain sized photographs – so all header photos would be the same size for a particular template, as they do now, but offer you the system to switch photos on the fly.  When you create a new post you’d have the opportunity to link to a photo pool folder or link to an individual photo.  This wouldn’t require a major programming change, and WordPress would sell a lot more space.  Of course, it would be nice to link to Flash videos and animations too.

I’m Sure You Get My Point By Now

By now you should see the trend.  I supposed with XML and web services many of these features could originate on companies outside of WordPress, or allow these features to work across all blogging sites.  I love the idea of OpenID and that needs to be expanded.  Selecting a blogging service like WordPress, Blogger, LiveJournal is like selecting a nationality, but we shouldn’t have language barriers to keep us from communicating across borders.

It may even be possible that various blogging services could work together so you’d have memberships on more than one service and combine the results.  I see people trying to do this now but the results are disjointed, like they have multiple personalities, or they want to have separate public identities.  I hate when I leave a reply on a Blogger site and it wants to send people to my Google identity rather than my WordPress identity.  My FaceBook page should just have a widget that displays my WordPress blog instead of trying to duplicate a blogging feature.

Has anyone thought about the ramifications for blogging for decades?  Or generations?  Permanent storage needs to be addressed for historical purposes.  I always like to ask people, “What would the world be like if Jesus had a blog and we could read it today.”  Whose blog would you want to read from history?  File and data formats are going to have to become standard if they are going to be readable in a thousand years.  And if you spend a lifetime crafting your blog so it represents who you are, do you want it to die just because your body can’t go on?

These are just some idle thoughts on my part.  Start thinking about what blogs could really become.  Just wait a few years for when WordPress rolls out its AI widget that allows you to program a talking personality to go with your blog.  All it’s personality will be based on your past blog entries.  Eventually, we’ll be able to talk to our AI and it will automatically create our posts just from interviewing us.

Jim

Pulp Fiction

Long ago, before Quentin Tarantino’s great film, before I was born in 1951, before television, there was pulp fiction.  It was called pulp fiction because of the grade of paper the stories were printed on was called pulp, and a whole entertainment industry was built around selling magazines with short stories and serialized novels wrapped in crude color reproductions of what is now called pulp art.

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When I was young I often met older science fiction fans that collected these magazines, but surely, most of the kids of the generation before me, who grew up loving to read pulp fiction, must be very old, if still living, and the pulp fiction generation surely must be dying out.  Yet, over at Fantasy & Science Fiction they are running an article, “The New Nostalgia: The Classic Pulp Story Revival” by Dave Truesdale that chronicles how several small press publishers are keeping the pulp fiction tradition alive with quality hardbound reprints.  This article is well worth reading on many levels because it renews memories of a few old authors and their best stories and informs about the sub-culture of the small press publishing.

Pulp fiction has also been kept alive by the legacy of comic books and their impact on the movies with all the classic super heroes being reinvented every year, and reoccurring pulp action films like the Indiana Jones series or the remake of King Kong.  Comics are the direct descendants of pulp magazines that featured cruder art and stories for the younger readers on the same pulp paper.  Pulp fiction was never literary but a few fine writers like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler came out of the tradition.  Most of the prose was purple and all action, and aimed at the poorly educated, often featuring very politically incorrect attitudes about race, gender, ethnic groups, and foreigners.  Society and the well bred looked down on the lowly pulp fiction fan.

Evidently, old pulp fiction is finding new younger readers through the popularity of action movies, reprints and inherited nostalgia.  When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s much of the best pulp fiction, including mysteries, westerns, science fiction, adventure, spy, thrillers and other genres were reprinted as cheap paperbacks for 25 and 35 cents, but now the buy-in price are $40 deluxe volumes.

There was always a tremendous vitality to pulp fiction, which explained why titles included words like astounding, thrilling, amazing, wonder, adventure, fantastic, and that wink-wink keyword, spicy.  Science fiction really is a child of pulp fiction, and I think many readers hated the change that the New Wave brought to the genre during the 1960s, where emerging writers tried to force science fiction out of the gutter and into the classroom where the revolutionaries wanted it to wear literary robes.  Today science fiction is often represented in the minds of the public at large by Star Trek and Star Wars, but those stories owe a lot to two pulp fiction superstars:  E. E. “Doc” Smith and Edward Hamilton.

If you want to sample classic science fiction pulp stories, and not spend too much money, I recommend tracking down copies of two anthologies:  Before the Golden Age edited by Isaac Asimov and Adventures in Time and Space edited by Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas.   These books collect some of the best SF short stories from 1931-1945.  You can find both at ABEBooks.com, but watch out, both fat original hardback anthologies were often reprinted as multi-volume paperback books, and it would be worth your while to use the advance search and specify hardback editions, thus saving you on total costs and postage.  These two books will give you a great education about the foundation of science fiction.

The URLs linked to these titles also give you table of contents for the stories which if you are really hoarding your gasoline dollars might find on the web for free.   Now, as you read the stories, consider these issues:

One, are they still fun to read?  Are they as fun as reading Harry Potter or any of your other current favorite writers?  Second, do the ideas seem stupid, in the light of modern knowledge?  Third, do you notice why I call them politically incorrect?  Fourth, can you tell the difference between pulp fiction writing and modern MFA writing (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao), or even modern genre writing (Charlie Stross and John Scalzi)?  Fifth, are these stories worth preserving?  Sixth, are they worth your reading time over reading newer stories?

All fiction from 1900-1950 is thinning out fast in our collective memories, and few stories from that era get reprinted.  I’m not just talking about pulp fiction.  If you can, find a copy of Best American Short Stories from before 1950 and some original pulp magazines.  Most of the contents from either will never have seen print since the original publications.  The small presses that are reprinting classic pulp fiction stories, are really just rescuing one story in a thousand, maybe one in ten thousand.

Looking at the periods 1800-1850 and 1850-1900, only the rarest of stories are still read by modern readers.  Baby boomers can remember the famous books they read from 1950-2000, but how many of the following generations know about those best selling titles?  My guess is the pulp fiction nostalgia is for the boomers who can remember reading pulp fiction from its first generation of reprints.  I would imagine, out of all the genres only a handful of novels will become classics, like The Maltese Falcon, Tarzan of the Apes, Conan the Barbarian, and Riders of the Purple Sage.  But how many kids under 16 discover these tales?

I occasionally enjoy reading an old pulp story and appreciate these small press publishers bringing back old favorites by Leigh Brackett, C. L. Moore, Robert E. Howard and Jack Williamson that I first discovered in used editions of Ace Doubles.  I think my identity is partly based on pulp fiction, and I feel I help keep these old friends alive by continuing to read them.  I know all of my generation and the stories we loved will soon pass on and be forgotten, but it’s pleasant to think a few of the stories will survive and future generations will enjoy them and wonder about their fans.

Jim

1965

Yesterday I discovered Playa Cofi Jukebox, an Internet radio station that lets listeners time travel back to any year from 1950-1982 to hear a rotation of the top 100 songs from that year.  I immediately jumped to 1965 and was transported to my all-time favorite musical year.  Go look at that link and see if you can think of any year that has more fantastic hits.  What year do you most identify with musically?  While I natter away about 1965 always substitute your favorite year and remember your songs.

I’ve been wishing for such an invention for a long time now.  Actually, I’d even like to pick the month and year, but I’m overjoyed to have a by year destination for now.  I’ve often daydreamed of collecting music with an idea of creating playlists on my computer so I could fake late night radio shows I heard in my kid days while discovering science fiction books.

I’d love to hear the old WQAM and WFUN AM stations from 1961-1967 Miami – and poking around the Internet shows that other people remember those stations with lots of fond nostalgia too.  I’m guessing there is something in our biochemistry that burns the pop culture of our teen years into our brains so nothing else ever seems as exciting.

I often reread the books I discovered in 1965 – mostly the twelve Heinlein juveniles that were first published in the 1950s.  The books still move me as much as the music.  But I have discovered when I see TV shows from that year like Lost in Space, Green Acres, I Dream of Jeannie, The Wild Wild West and Get Smart I have to wonder if I wasn’t simple-minded back then.  I know that science fiction and rock music back then wasn’t that sophisticated either, but they feel like art today whereas the television shows seem silly.

I have to wonder how much of the 1965 me is still stored in my brain?  Physicists still grapple with the concept of time, some even theorize that time doesn’t exist – suggesting that we live in a continual succession of nows.  I know my old brain now is much different from my young brain then, but I’m guessing much of the same programming and circuitry still exist.  If I put on 1965 on the Playa Cofi jukebox and start reading Starman Jones by Robert A. Heinlein how close can I get to the original experience?  Time appears to be change, but what is changing?

What if I had a brain injury or Alzheimer’s and did this experiment?  What if I could move back to my old house in Miami.  Would it feel like 1965?  Would I feel like I’m 13 and something really bad happened to my body?

Why do science fiction writers and readers love the concept of time travel?  Wouldn’t time travel also involve space travel?  Wouldn’t we have to jump in a space ship and go back to the coordinates of where Earth was forty-three years ago?  (Oddly The Shangri-Las was singing “I Can Never Go Home Anymore,”  And “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by the Byrds just started playing.  Very appropriate songs for this essay.  What synergy with 1965.)

The Earth has gone around the Sun forty-three times, and the solar system has moved around the galaxy, and the Milky Way has moved in whatever direction it is heading, and the Universe is expanding.  It’s damn hard to believe that time travel will ever be possible, but it’s also hard to imagine that time does not exist either.

The question I really should ask myself:  Why would I want to time travel to 1965?  Is it because I had so much fun listening to WQAM and reading Heinlein and watching The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on television?  Don’t we all time travel every day when we turn on our TVs and watch movies from the past hundred years?

What is something I couldn’t do now, that I could do then?  For one thing, I could go see Bob Dylan perform during the height of his talent.  (“Mr. Tambourine Man” just started playing after I typed the words Bob Dylan – this is getting spooky.)  How important is that?  What does it tell me?  I guess I’d like to do all the things back in 1965 that I didn’t do the first time around but wanted to so badly.  (The Animals just started singing “We Gotta Get Out of this Place.”)

And I think the Animals song is informative.  I think one of the basic urges for time travel is the same as space travel, we just want to go somewhere in space-time where we think it’s better.  Was 1965 really a better place?  (Jesus, this is starting to weird me out, Sonny and Cher just started singing, “Baby Don’t Go.”)  Maybe they’re right, now is the only place that counts.

This makes me wonder how many science fiction fans would jump at a chance to go somewhere fantastic.  If a powerful being suddenly appeared in your room right now and commanded:  “Name a destination in the universe – any time, anywhere, and I’ll send you there right now” would you jump at the chance?  (The Shangri-Las are back and singing, “The Leader of the Pack.”  – Umm)

Let’s imagine I say, “Miami, 1965” – and pop I’m there.  What would I do then?  (I wished I had written “and clap I’m there,” because Shirley Ellis just started singing “The Clapping Song.”)  The first thing I’d have to do is get out of my old house because my parents, who would be younger than me now, would find a stranger invading their house very scary.  I’d be out on the streets and homeless.

(The Moody Blues just started singing “Go Now.” – I’m not making this up.  If you could hear the song like I hear it, it has mystical thrills.  It always had.)

The job of a time traveler is a tough one.  At least in 1965 Miami, everyone speaks my language, but walking the streets with only the clothes on my back and a wallet full of funny money wouldn’t be an easy start to a new life.  (I hear Joe Tex telling me to hold on to what I’ve got.)

A lot of science fiction stories starts with this very problem, remember John Carter arriving on Mars.  But how many of us would buy a ticket to another city and start an adventure by being homeless.  (The Four Seasons sings “Let’s Hang On” repeating and emphasizing the wisdom of Joe Tex “Let’s hang on to what we’ve got”)

I guess 1965 is telling me to stay home in 2008.  What if I never owned a radio or discovered Heinlein in 1965?  What if I had taken up sports instead and all my memories of 1965 would be about ball games – this essay would be about how I remember seeing some great games.  Time is always something we did.  The year 1965 is just a label I put on a period of my life when pop culture was very impressionable on my mind.  For other people that might be 1983 or 1942, and all my fond memories would be meaningless to them.  In forty-three years some guy is going to be writing about 2008 and his nostalgic memories of Rap music.

Last night my wife and I had a party at our house celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary and everyone sat around trying to remember 1978.  Our wedding reception had been at my wife’s parent’s house, the house where we live now.  And a number of people who had been there thirty years ago sat around looking at photos of the 1978 event.  We sure do love to time travel.  In 1965 I was terribly anxious to live in the 21st century.  I wonder if I’ll ever live in a year that is the one I want to be living in?

The Four Seasons just started singing, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right (The Wonder Who).”  I think I spend too much time thinking twice.  I can’t go home to 1965, but along the way time has eroded my desire to live in the future.  I think reality has overtaken science fiction.

I keep waiting for The Rolling Stones to sing, “Time is On My Side,” which came out in late 64 and was popular in 1965.  I need to get over looking backwards.  What I really want from 1965 is a way to live looking forward again.  I need to stop thinking about 1965, and start planning for 2065.  Having a grand distant future inside of you waiting to unfold is the way to feel young again.

Jim

R.I.P. – The Good Ole Days

Let me start out by saying I don’t want this essay to be doom and gloom.  Also let me just remind you about the Yin and Yang nature of the world.  Creation also means something gets destroyed.  Old folks are always crying about how things aren’t the way they were when they were growing up at the same time the young’uns run wild, gleeful embracing every new fad coming down the expressway.  I’m a glass half-full kind of guy who enjoys wearing rose colored specs while examining the philosophies of those dark clouded guys proposing the half-empty theories.

As I mentioned previously, I’m listening to The Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen.  I just finished his eulogy for the music store and I just can’t help tossing out my two pennies worth of monkey typing.  I know most bloggers pretend to barf when they hear the name Andrew Keen, but I actually think his book should be read by everyone.  He’s done much cogitating and turned up a lot of ideas to think about.  Only I’m not sure I’m thinking about his vital issues in the same way he does.

When Keen started lamenting the demise of the record store I was reminded how I used to love record shopping.  From 1965 through 1998 I bought a damn lot of LPs and CDs.  I averaged buying two to four albums while shopping in two or more records stores each week.  I loved record stores.  Hell, it was a stab to the heart when LPs disappeared, with their great 12″ venues for fantastic cover art.  To me the good ole days of record stores was from 1965-1975 – from Byrds to Bruce.  Okay I do love those little dinky little CD albums, but never as much as the big beautiful LPs.

Now Andrew Keen wants us to believe that the Internet is murdering the music business.  And that is true for the old way of business.  I believe stealing music is stealing, and P2P does cause lost sales.  However, I’m not sure that music thieves are the only suspect holding a smoking MAC-10.  I never stole music when it became a fad, but around 1998 I stopped buying CDs by the handful – so I’m sure my kind hurt the industry too.  I don’t know how many baby boomers are like me but the damn music industry just stopped selling music I wanted to own.

There are other factors.  I’d say part of the music boom of the 1980s and early 1990s was us old guys re-buying all our favorite LPs on CDs, as well as trying to discover everything great back to the 1910s as we got older.  As the price of CDs reached the point of kissing an Andrew Jackson good-bye I got wary of buying CDs just because of one good tune – or even no good tunes at all.  For years I kept buying all my favorite artists whenever they churned out a new CD and it took awhile to learn that great music often is created by the wild at heart – a state of being hurt by age and success.

Mr. Keen, I’d love to have the good ole record store days back again, but for me that means recreating 1965 and not 1995.  I think Andrew Keen’s ethical issues are spot on and pointing out the music industry has a long history of being unethical is no rationalization to steal by.  His theory about big music companies are the patrons of great artists and without real investment great music in the future might not get made as well, does have some merits, but that is a hard case to make.  Would I have discovered Bruce Springsteen if Columbia Records hadn’t promoted him?  I don’t know.  Would his first five albums been as fantastic if the Boss had made them on a computer as MP3 files?  I don’t think so, but I really don’t know either.

I also agree that the music business is hurting and hurting bad, but so did the buggy whip makers when people started buying cars.  And I strongly believe all those ethical issues Mr. Keen brings up regarding the Internet are happening and they are critical issues we need to work on.  But even if we fix those problems we’re not going to bring back the record store or see CD albums sell in the tens of millions.  Those good ole days are gone.

When Fleetwood Mac sold albums in the kazillions, kids didn’t have to choose between buying cell phones, $60 video games, computers, iPods and so on.  Junk food was still budgeted with pocket change and you could see a major rock band live for $7.50.  If I was in the lamenting business like Mr. Keen, and I often am, I’d wail about what happened to those days when several touring bands came to town every week.  I’m also desponded that sharing music isn’t like it used to be – see my “Why Has Listening to Music Become as Solitary as Masturbation?”

I’ve spent many words on crying over the dwindling subscriptions of my favorite SF magazines.  And there are numerous hobbies that are fading from existence because kids have new interests, and there are lots of Dads sad to see cherished pastimes of old ignored by their sprouts.  Things change and that’s tough.  I actually love Rhapsody.com and having millions of albums to listen to for $10 a month.  Sure, it ain’t as fun as shopping for LPs, but I can live with instant gratification.

Someday, some kid who read this blog will write a blog, but it won’t be called a blog, about how sad it is that iTunes is going out of business, and he’ll have a lot of teary feelings to try and put into words.  Maybe he will even remember reading this essay and note the kids of his time have found something exciting to move on to.  As long as there are people there’s going to be music.  The creation of a new system to promote music will always destroy the previous system.  BFD.  Move with the times or rust, because Neil told us that decades ago.  I bet there are plenty of people out there still crying over the 78 era.

I’m writing to myself as much as you Mr. Keen.  Yes, Andrew, it is a dirty rotten shame that the way we bought music is fading into our dim memories.  Sure, these young whippersnappers won’t know what their missing, but then I haven’t a clue as to what they are jamming on now.  I’m sure it’s something hot, maybe as hot as the Beatles, but I’ll never now.  That’s just the way things are.  I admit I don’t get Rap or Brittany Spears – but I assume that’s just payback for forcing my Dad to listen to rock and roll when he kept screaming for me to shut off that goddamn noise.

Mr. Keen, the good ole days are always passing.

Jim

Have Space Suit-Will Travel

Have Space Suit-Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein is my all-time favorite book and I’ve read it every few years since I discovered it in 1965. I turned thirteen in late 1964, so discovering Robert A. Heinlein and science fiction during puberty integrated a biological transformation with a sense of wonder. If we could only warn kids that whatever pop culture you take in during that time it will be imprinted into your soul. The thoughts and emotions generated by the book are recorded in my brain alongside intense powerful memories.

But there’s more, like the say in info-commercials, because 1965 was when the 1960s became the Sixties. Discovering science fiction during a social revolution only enhances its call for human transformation. NASA was blasting off with the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. The Great Society, Civil Rights and feminism were all demanding major changes. And the pop culture of movies, television and music made it feel like we were transitioning from the black and white Fifties to a new Technicolor world, like when Dorothy walked out her black and white house into Oz.

While the greater world erupted into wars, riots, demonstrations, my personal world blew up too. From 1963-65, I went to five schools because of moves brought on by my restless military employed dad who moved more than even the Air Force ordered. During this period my father had two heart attacks and was forced into “retirement” where he had to work two or three low-level jobs to make family ends meet and pay for his hard drinking. My parent’s already stormy marriage moved into hell-mode, and my mother took up my father’s hobby of boozing, but she was so bad at it she almost got my sister and I killed while driving drunk. I won’t go into all the memoir-gory details, but suffice it to say I had plenty of reasons for embracing the powerful escapist qualities of reading science fiction.

No matter how many times I try to write this I can’t recreate the setting of when I read Have Space Suit-Will Travel for the first time. There was one more powerful force of nature that came into play: music. Imagine Pulp Fiction without the music, and I mention that movie because living my life was like watching that film. While science fiction painted fantastic worlds through my eyes, music filled those worlds through my ears while I read. The music of 1965 provided the soundtrack to this novel and the times, and on that soundtrack are some of the best pop songs ever like “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan, “Downtown” by Petula Clark, “Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire and “Stop in the Name of Love” by the Supremes, among countless others.

When I picked up Have Space Suit-Will Travel and opened to the first page all the planets were lining up in a great gravitational surge causing a perfect hurricane of emotions. I could have read anything and it would have become the greatest novel of my life, but Have Space Suit-Will Travel was it. I sure wish it hadn’t had such a dorky title. I could write hundred thousand words about why Have Space Suit-Will Travel affected me, but let’s just say I was at the right place at the right time in a very receptive mood and it did a number on me. Boy did it ever.

Finding My Religion

 

Why is this book so important? It’s just a kid’s book. All I’ve got to say is a lot of other people came under the sway of Heinlein in the 1950s. Over the years I’ve notice countless comments by people in various lines of work about how they were influenced by Heinlein. You can search Google but the results are generally disappointing, and only reflect the negative qualities of using the Internet as a reference tool. Heinlein in Dimension by Alexei Panshin is a good place to start, but the more recent Heinlein’s Children: The Juveniles by Joseph T. Major goes much deeper, and Panshin wrote a great introduction, “Heinlein’s Child” that mirrors many of the stories I read about people discovering Heinlein.

For over forty years I’ve been trying to figure out what this book did to me. It became my Bible and religion, and although I’ve tried to explain that many times before I happened to catch an old movie on TCM, Things to Come, that has a scene that captures the essence of Heinlein’s sermon. I think it’s worthwhile to quote it at length. In the 1936 film about war and progress, a futuristic city has just launched a space capsule to the moon:

An observatory at a high point above Everytown. A telescopic mirror of the night sky showing the cylinder as a very small speck against a starry background. Cabal and Passworthy stand before this mirror.

 

CABAL: “There! There they go! That faint gleam of light.”

 

Pause.

 

PASSWORTHY: “I feel–what we have done is–monstrous.”

 

CABAL: “What they have done is magnificent.”

 

PASSWORTHY: “Will they return?”

 

CABAL: “Yes. And go again. And again–until the landing can be made and the moon is conquered. This is only a beginning.”

 

PASSWORTHY: “And if they don’t return–my son, and your daughter? What of that, Cabal?”

 

CABAL (with a catch in his voice but resolute): “Then presently–others will go.”

 

PASSWORTHY: “My God! Is there never to be an age of happiness? Is there never to be rest?”

 

CABAL: “Rest enough for the individual man. Too much of it and too soon, and we call it death. But for MAN no rest and no ending. He must go on–conquest beyond conquest. This little planet and its winds and ways, and all the laws of mind and matter that restrain him. Then the planets about him, and at last out across immensity to the stars. And when he has conquered all the deeps of space and all the mysteries of time–still he will be beginning.”

 

PASSWORTHY: “But we are such little creatures. Poor humanity. So fragile–so weak.”

 

CABAL: “Little animals, eh?”

 

PASSWORTHY: “Little animals.”

 

CABAL: “If we are no more than animals–we must snatch at our little scraps of happiness and live and suffer and pass, mattering no more–than all the other animals do–or have done.” (He points out at the stars.) “It is that–or this? All the universe–or nothingness…. Which shall it be, Passworthy?”

 

The two men fade out against the starry background until only the stars remain.

 

The musical finale becomes dominant.

 

CABAL’S voice is heard repeating through the music: “Which shall it be, Passworthy? Which shall it be?”

 

Cabal’s beliefs sum up exactly how I felt after reading Have Space Suit-Will Travel. I had already abandoned the religion my parents tried to force on me in my childhood, and I was looking for something meaningful to replace it. Heinlein’s belief in humans having a manifest destiny to explore the galaxy felt right. If we are no more than animals then we have to snatch at our little scraps of happiness before oblivion overtakes our small fragile minds, and eventually the collective consciousness of the whole human race when it becomes extinct. The question is whether or not we can become more than animals and make our own destiny.

Losing My Religion

 

As serendipity would have it, just after watching Things to Come I found over on Edge.org “What Have You Changed Your Mind About in 2007” survey. This major article features a lot of serious people rethinking a lot of serious ideas, including manned space exploration. In 2008, do I still believe in my religion? That’s hard to say.

If you are someone who writes you will understand it when I tell you that I’ve tried to answer that before. In fact, many times. The last time was, What Happened to My Future? – from January 2007. It’s January 2008, so maybe it’s an annual unfolding of my unconscious at the beginning of the New Year. There are core emotions, or biological programming, memories, or whatever, that just nag the hell out of me, causing me to write about them over and over again. Each time I hope the focus of thoughts will make things clear and exorcise their haunting. I’m like my own psychiatrist trying to get myself to experience a breakthrough so I’ll understand why I am the way I am.

Another way to think of it is I’m a programmer looking at old code, examining loops and functions deep in a billion lines of code wondering what they mean to the current functionality of the program. This time I’m going to look at the subprogram introduced when I read Have Space Suit-Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein in 1965. If I could time travel back to my 13 year old self and ask him what his life would be like in 2008 it might reveal a lot about why I am the way I am today. However, does understanding the past ever free us from its programming? Can we reprogram ourselves over again?

Robert A. Heinlein seduced his readers into the romance of space exploration. Heinlein preached the gospel of the manifest destiny of human kind belongs exploring the galaxy. Heinlein was selling science fiction as something greater than Buck Rodgers crap, which is hard to believe because Have Space Suit-Will Travel was a parody of kid’s TV shows of the day, so how subversive could it be? America has always sold the future in a big way and Heinlein preached with the fervor of Elmer Gantry.

Evaluating the validity of space exploration is beyond the scope of a blog entry so I want to focus on one tiny view of how Have Space Suit-Will Travel intertwined in my mind, and how so very strangely it leads me from 1965 to 2008 and writing this essay.

Why would a thirteen-year-old kid read a book and decide living in outer space is the ultimate goal of his life? What’s so appealing about the high frontier? I’ve been able to look inside of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space capsules several times in my life and there is nothing glamorous about them, but during the sixties I envied those astronauts more than anyone else on Earth. The mature “me” knows I could never have been an astronaut. Hell, I’m squeamish about public toilets and I’m addicted to creature comforts. But let’s say that volunteering to be a colonist on the Moon or Mars required no discomforts greater than traveling on a jet and living in a hotel, what makes living on those rocky worlds so appealing?

Is life so meaningless on Earth and so meaningful if we can blast off for parts unknown? Is breathing bottled air so much more exciting than breathing fresh air? There is absolutely nothing on the Moon and Mars other than rocks, and I was never interested in geology. Playing Freud I could say having two alcoholics for parents and living in a DMZ between the two of them and their never ending war was enough to make my 13-year-old self want to leave Earth, but I don’t think that’s it either. Although I have to admit that my teenage years of fiction and television addiction and playing around with drugs was obviously my psychological effort to escape.

The ending to Things to Come is the clue. By the way, I had seen this film before, many times, but I had forgotten it, so when its ending stood out like beacon it got me to thinking. Was Heinlein influenced by H. G. Wells? Most modern science fiction disappoints me because it lacks this philosophy. Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy was a good adult exploration of these ideas, but it had little impact in the field of SF. From what I can tell most people want entertainment from SF, not a religion promoting the conquest of space. Is it time for me to give up too?

I don’t know if I can give up. It’s like people who lose their faith late in life, they can’t just chuck it all because too many lingering subprograms. I’m like Mother Teresa, with a lot of doubts after seeing years of harsh reality. And there are two subtle things that I have to distinguish between: science fiction and space exploration. Science fiction has as much to do with the realities of space exploration as the Harry Potter books do to the realism of magic.

Let’s face it, fiction, no matter how fancy you make it, is about entertainment and escapism. James Joyce can pretend to show us the world, but what Joyce shows us is no better than what Monet shows in his paintings. In the end, both writers and painters make something artificially beautiful for our minds to contemplate, but their allusions to reality, are just that, illusionary. Have Space Suit-Will travel is gorgeous jewel of a picture for me to contemplate, but it lives on its own with no real connection to the real world.

Now for believing in space exploration. It seems tragic that we live in such a large universe but are confined to such a small portion of it. It may not be possible to move our fragile life very far from Earth. And humanity, and life on Earth, is like the life of one person. We come into being, live for awhile, and die. The desire to explore space is also the desire for the human race to live longer, to seek immortality. But even this universe will die someday. The real reason to colonize space is to provide life insurance for mankind in case something happens to Earth.

When I first read Have Space Suit-Will Travel I couldn’t imagine my own death or the death of the human race, which by the way is the subject of the book. Now that I am older, the knowledge of death creeps into my life like the slow decay of rust. Yeah, Neil, you were right, rust never sleeps. The reality is that most of humanity does not see the value of space exploration. It’s like that old Woody Allen joke where he professes he doesn’t want to find immortality in his work, but he just wants to live forever himself.

I think this same philosophy applies to environmentalism. People do not want to sacrifice for space or the Earth because the benefits are not direct to them. In other words, buying into Heinlein’s religion of manifest destiny of exploring the galaxy just isn’t natural. Like doubting Christians though, I always want to hold out for the possibility that space exploration will happen.

Like the people contemplating changes of mind at Edge.org, my change of mind for 2008 would be about science fiction. I officially declare that I no longer believe that science fiction is about science, or has any relation to it. From now on, whether I call the books I read science fiction or fantasy, all I expect of them is to be entertaining, and any logical analysis will only focus on judging the consistency of the fictional world the author creates. Now, do I really believe that? Yes, for all books of science fiction I read. But if I ever wrote the science fiction books I dream about writing, I’m going to do what Heinlein did, write the best entertainment possible and continue the religion.

JWH

What Would It Be Like To Be A Kid Today?

    What would it be like to be a kid today? Is the world scarier now than when I was growing up? Are the children and grandchildren of the baby boomers any smarter than that famous generation that made such a fuss and expected the whole world to watch? The 1960s radicals wanted a revolution, the sociologists predicted a social transformation, the spiritual gurus promised a New Age, and scientists extrapolated an array of futures from doom to bloom. Youth from the past two generations have been quiet – when will there be another noisy generation that demands the whole world change for them? The Iraq War feels like 1967 Vietnam – will the 2008 election be 1968 Chicago? Global warming should make the kids of today hate us – when will they get angry? When does the new revolution start? My fellow baby boomers, we are the establishment this time around – should we trust anyone under thirty?

    I began first grade in 1957 just before Sputnik and finished high school just before Neil Armstrong took his stroll on the Moon in 1969. My generation grew up with our parents playing with atomic bombs and going apeshit paranoid over the Russkies. We grew up in three bedrooms/one bath/single carport Leave It to Beaver homes. Our parents told us to go to school, study hard and we’d live in four bedrooms/two bath/two-car garage homes of their fantasies! We replied to their dreams by turning on, tuning in and dropping out. We expected the future to be a combination of a Thomas Jefferson/Henry David Thoreau Utopia and Star Trek – but one that didn’t take a lot of work to build.

    After our tantrums we picked ourselves up, went out and became our parents, bought even bigger homes and cars than our parents imagined. It takes a big SUV to carry a fat-ass baby boomer but we bought them rationalizing that big trucks protects little kids. We didn’t just want our kids to finish high school, we wanted them to go to Harvard and become rich. And we went apeshit over any hint of hoods selling drugs anywhere near our children. No turning in for them. And we were damn sure they wouldn’t drop out.    

    My mother and father grew up in the roaring 1920s, my mother in roarless rural Mississippi, my father in sleepy tropical Miami. They went to high school in the 1930s and then got jobs expecting prosperity to be just around the corner. Instead they got Germany, Italy and Japan wanting to rule the world. My parent’s generation had schools that taught the basics with everyone dreaming Horatio Alger, Jr stories, hoping to learn enough to get a good job with a company that would last a lifetime. High tech entertainment was a radio and dreams came in black and white visions imported from Hollywood. They didn’t want much, just economic security and freedom from Fascism. I think my father was caught up in the romance of airplanes because the joined the Army-Air Corps. I don’t know if he read science fiction but he grew up during the golden age of science fiction pulps. The drug of choice and rebellion for my parent’s generation was alcohol. My mother’s first husband had been a bootlegger.

    My parent’s parents grew up before the automobile and the airplane. My father’s mother became a teacher in a one-room school house. My mother’s mother braved convention when her father shipped her off to Little Rock at the turn of the century to attend secretarial school. She went to work in the big metropolis of Memphis in 1901. I never knew my grandfathers or their dreams. My mother’s father was farmer, and my dad’s dad grew up in rural Nebraska before moving to Miami in the 1920s. I’m sure the transformation from farm life to city life that most of the country was going through was full of excitement and promise. I’m not sure if either of them had twelve years of schooling. I figure they were dazzled by the transformation of the horse into the car, and the bird into the plane but I sure wished I knew what their dreams of the future were like. I assume the drug of choice for this generation was booze, before Prohibition. I know my grandfather, like my father, died a drunk.

    So what are kids today like? What kind of official and unofficial education are they getting? If you listen to the news the school system is in crisis. When I was a teenager I expected the future to be as exciting as science fiction. What can the kids of today expect when all they hear is gloomy forecasts of global warming? I loved growing up in the 1960s because the times were so exciting, although full of turmoil. Present times are shaping up to be just as extreme and challenging.

    I’ve worked at a university for thirty years now, and I haven’t seen anything like the 1960s again. Social and political apathy has reigned over student populations since the Vietnam War. Did ending the draft, enacting civil rights laws, illuminating the injustices done to minorities, women and gays, and strengthening EPA buy off recent generations? In many ways the Iraq war is almost identical to the Vietnam War – so why aren’t today’s kids outraged? Global warming is the ethical crisis of our times but young people haven’t tried to make it their issue. Why? Do they not understand that it’s the great challenges that define a generation?

    Maybe they are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore, but they are shouting out virtual windows and we can’t hear them. When I watch MTV, the youth appear to be trying to define themselves by decadence and money. If I could show MTV to the Puritans or folks from the Great Depression and tell them this is the future of America I think it would have blown their minds and they would have given the country back to the Indians. I know my generation who smoked pot, bragged of free love, grew their crew-cut hair long and refused to go to war, scared the hell out of our parent’s generation.

    My dad called me queer because I had long hair – called me a commie pinko because I was against the war – and called me a hoodlum because I smoked pot. He called me all those names in rage and anger, but I think mostly because my actions scared him. The violence of the current generation scares me, with the school shootings, boy gangs, girl gangs, and attacks on teachers. First person shooter games just make me wonder about today’s kids like my father wondered about me. Beyond their violent lives their indifference to the future freightens me more.

    But that is the TV view of things. Up close the kids of today don’t seem much different from when I was a kid. They tend to have less hair, take fewer drugs but like booze more, seem greedier, and love tattoos and body art. The girls wear skimpier clothes with uncomfortable underwear that shows because they have cleavage in both front and rear. On the whole I’d say they are equally self-absorbed as my generation and equally focused on sexual bonding. I am always disappointed when I talk to them because they have no interest in big issues, no interest in exciting topics like space travel or scientific discoveries, and have zip to say about the future. It truly is a Be Here Now generation.

    The Slashdot crowd are different – they do think about the future and scientific discovery, but then I was a computer geek long before they were, so I identify with them. Maybe modern kids feel they should be seen and not heard. I do see a lot to envy about kids today, especially the Internet and computers, but most kids just use the technology and aren’t cutting edge techno-evangelicals.

    Back in the 1970s when my friends were deciding whether or not to have children some of them said no because they felt the world was too awful and getting worse. Has it actually gotten worse? There were bumps along the way, but this world and time doesn’t suck despite its many pitfalls – in fact I see a lot about growing up now to be jealous. I also assume that kids growing up today find the future scary, but are they pessimistic about having kids themselves? I’ve never heard one say so.

    Of course, in kidworld you don’t see all the horrors of the world; you see the world close-up, immediate, and the things that make you laugh or cry are right next too you – family, friends, pets, schools, games, books, movies, televisions, computers. My parents had lots of great memories about growing up in the depression. I grew up with an alchoholic father that dragged us around the county forcing me and my sister to attend more than a dozen schools and yet I was still happy for the most part. Last night on the news I saw a piece about the lull in fighting in Bagdad and families were out playing in the parks.

    If you study history close enough you’ll find that every generation had their end-of-the-world doomsayers and every generation will have people who will want to get off the genetic train to the future. However, I want to ask: What’s unique about this generation? Sure, Ecclesiastes tells us there is nothing new under the sun, but I don’t think that’s true. Growing up today means being plugged into a world-wide digital nervous system – and that is new! And after hundreds of generations of Chicken Littles screaming the sky is falling there’s always a chance that one generation of soothsayers are going to get it right, and maybe the sky will fall, or a small piece of it. Personally, I think we’re going to adapt and survive global warming but it will take considerably longer and be more disruptive than the world wars of the twentienth century.

    This is going to sound weird but as a kid I rated television as the most important part of my life. I know family is supposed to come first, but when I grew up adults still believed in the old “kids should be seen and not heard” philosophy. And unlike today where kids and parents often interact as friends my parents were very distant. Oh, they loved and provided for me and my sister, and made us behave and learn right from wrong, but they didn’t play with us. Modern kids seem to spend more time with their parents, often as buddies and it’s no wonder that so many want to keep living with their parents late into their twenties.

    The main difference between my childhood and growing up today is the amount of adult supervision kids get. My little sister and I became latch-key kids when I was nine and I loved that. But even before that, as young as first grade I got to walk to school by myself. When we moved to New Jersey when I was in third grade Becky and I got to play in the woods alone or with other kids, and we ventured far and wide. Today’s kids don’t get that kind of freedom. I don’t think our world was safer, but parents back then felt that kids should go outside and play and they didn’t need constant adult supervision. In this regards, as a kid, I’d vote for my past times. If I was a parent I’d vote for modern times as being better.

    Regarding television, I’d vote for modern times because of the hundreds of channels, the high definition big screens, and because of the numerous chances of seeing shows with naked women. When I was little we had three television stations to watch. The screens were so small, and the black and white images were so bad, that even when they showed girls in bikinis it wasn’t that arousing. I pitied my poor father who grew up with radio and the girls just had sexy voices.

    I’d also vote for growing up in modern times when I think about the television shows the kids get to watch today. Modern kids may love Nick at Nite and TVLand featuring shows from my past but 1967 Batman blows chunks compared to 2006 Heroes and Planet Earth in HD is lightyears beyond Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. The most exciting shows of the 1960s for me were the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space flights. Yet seeing the Earth from space on Discovery HD puts modern kids in a whole new visual dimension of wonder and awe. Modern television is just far more sophisticated as entertainment and many magnitudes better in education.

    I work in a College of Education, so I have a tiny idea about modern classroom life. I’ve sometimes visited our campus school to help them with their computers. My office is near a textbook depository and I flip through them sometimes. I also know a number of teachers. The news is both good and bad. The quality of education various widely from school to school, and from state to state. Growing up I saw a lot of schools in a lot of states. My guess is the quality of education is better today, but there are more problems with discipline and violence, so it may have been more fun to attend school back in my times. I’ve met a lot of people from my generation who says the worse times of their lives were when they were going to school. I think those people would hate now.

    When it comes to toys modern times beats the past hands down. Tinker Toys are nothing compared to Mindstorm Robots. Comparing a Gameboy to a plastic box with a BB is just silly. If you could take a Toys R’ Us catalog back to 1963 all the kids would have wanted to move to the future.

    You know what would really make me vote for growing up in the past? Music. AM radio from 1961-1969 just flat-out out-performs all music before and since. I know that’s probably a prejudice of my times. The kids of today do not having anything close to a Bob Dylan, much less bands like the Beatles or the Bryds. Modern pop music has zero social impact, except for some hip-hoppers and Goth song writers, they don’t even try. Modern music seems to be exclusively hedonistic – but that may my take at seeing the videos that go with it.

    I envy the kids today, living with hundreds of television channels, the Internet, iPods, Gameboys, Xboxes and cellphones. Their lives are more technologically exciting than the science fiction I used to read. John Brunner pegged the bad parts of our time in his 1969 novel Stand on Zanzibar but he missed all the fun and exciting stuff. Science fiction never imagined the video games or the World Wide Web and it especially never predicted the naked girls on HBO and the Internet – when I was in eighth grade finding an issue of National Geographic in the school library during study hall with a photo of a topless old women made me famous with all the other boys for the rest of the day. I bet my dad was envious of my generation because we had Playboy magazines – an item I couldn’t afford until after I started working as a bagboy unless we stole them – yeah, in those younger horny years all we had to make do with were the bra and panty ads in the Sears catalogs. Boys today have no idea how lucky they are. Today, any boy with access to Google can see whole vistas of feminine forms.

    I’ve been thinking and talking about this topic with my friends for a couple weeks now. I think the consensus is we had it better in our day and we wouldn’t want to trade lives with the current generation. Our biggest concerns are with the schools and education. I know my parents were impressed with the limited technology of our baby-boomer schools but feared the violence of our times. I think they felt they got a better basic education in their day, and they felt they were more moral. Besides global warming, education is probably the second direst crisis of modern times. And both are issues that the Bush administration likes to ignore.

    There was a very common phrase from the 1960s that’s mostly forgotten today – “the generation gap.” I think the most positive thing I see about the current generation is they communicate more with their parents and parents try to communicate more with them. My father died when I was nineteen and he was forty-nine. I never tried to communicate with him and he never tried to communicate with me. I was too young to understand and he was too much of a drunk and too afraid of what I might say. I know he tried a few times in odd ways. When his long-haired boy started going out on dates with girls he expressed himself by giving me his drinking money and car. Before he died he tried to apologize for his lack of communication skills.

    I think the biggest difference between growing up in the 1950s and 1960s and today would be difference in the relationship I would have with my father. I’m pretty sure we would have talked more if we both grew up in modern times. Who knows maybe he would have taken better care of himself – quit smoking, drank less, and exercised – things they didn’t nag about in his day. I don’t think the generation gap would have been as wide today – and I’d like to think the chasm between us would have been narrow enough so we could have heard each other.