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Columns > Jesse Jarnow - Brain Tuba

Published: 2005/03/06
by Jesse Jarnow

Entropicalia (Five Semi-Connected Thoughts About the Future)

Recently, I read an interview with Jaron Lanier, the inventor of virtual reality. It was conducted in 1993, at the height of the infant technology’s future. The picture of Lanier next to the piece depicted the perfect pre-cyberboom cowboy — massive dreadlocks shadowing brooding eyes, a beard framing knowing, melodramatically pursed lips. Though I don’t recall if it ever did (though it must have), I can imagine Lanier lookin’ real edgy peering outta the pages of Wired. The interview is all future tense — grand pronouncements about virtual reality’s ‘post-symbolic communication,’ and the assured cockiness of a prophet.
Virtual reality has been a little slower in coming than Lanier implied, but — for a few years there — it was the meme to surf, seemingly embodying the shared sci-fi dreams of what was deemed Generation X (who took a little more ecstasy than they might now admit to, and dreamed as big as the sky). While assigning certain behavioral characteristics to people by the years they were born is as dumb as the idea that a single fortune might sum up the same day of everybody born under the same astrological sign, the idea of generations can be truly useful. People born within a decade of one another do experience the world together as the world acts equally on them. It seems only fair to make generational pronouncements far into the future (though, by that point, there are other, deeper navels to ponder…)

Hunter S. Thompson’s suicide last week marked the true, final death of the 1960s. Though dozens of monumental figures have passed — Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary, Jerry Garcia, to name just a few — none served as the generation’s conscience more than Thompson. None bore the task of judgment more willingly, and certainly none doled out that judgment so precisely. His mostly irrelevant sports column, Hey, Rube, could be counted on as a consistent wellspring of pure Fire. Even at his most incoherent, Thompson was Clear on that point. It was a place where I could check in, if I wanted, just to make sure Thompson was still there, the craggily old man on the mountain, the angel and devil on a generation’s shoulder (battle raging within himself), takin’ it somewhere-far-from-easy for all us sinners.
And now he’s not.
"The future’s here, this is it, we are on our own," Bob Weir sang on the Grateful Dead’s "Throwing Stones," lyrics courtesy of collaborator John Perry Barlow. As the co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation — the American Civil Liberties Union of cyberspace — Barlow is a Neal Cassady-like generation-spanning character in his own right. Barlow penned the lyric in the mid-‘80s, just as the Internet spread across the Grid in neon blue time-lapse spiderwebs, genuine utopianism potentially zapping forth through every phoneline. While, as the saying goes, the future ain’t what it used to be, time being what it is, Barlow’s lyric will always ring true. Thompson’s death underscores that. In a way, it is from this point that we sail, and I guess I’m kind of scared. In other ways, we have been sailing all along.

We are on our own with our aging parents. We are on our own with making sure the dishes get done. We are on our own with the rent check. We are on our own trying to figure out this taxes thing. We are on our own with favorite bands making shitty albums. We are on our own the messiness of relationships. We are on our own with the non-reality of virtual reality. We are on our own with entropy. We are on our own with the future. We are on our own with the Internet. We are on our own with George Bush. We are on our own without Doctor Thompson.
I moved to my neighborhood in Brooklyn almost four years ago because the rent was cheap and the space was big. The rent is still manageable, but the neighborhood has mutated. There was nothing. Now there is an organic grocery, a bar, a video store, and a restaurant. The building has changed, too. The cement hallway floors have been marbled over, the graffiti cleansed from the walls, old paint scraped outta the stairwells, battered steel doors replaced with sleek modern designs, all-seeing-eye security cameras mounted in public spaces. I’m not complaining (except about the cameras; those bug me out), since the quality of life has certainly improved. But that doesn’t male it any less weird.
One roommate moved out last week, and — as we reorganized the common space in his wake — we purged many possessions, filling straining garbage bags with old carpets, flyers for shows swept under the couch, demo tapes covered in dust bunnies, accumulated junk mail, unlabeled videos, stray unmatched gloves, unidentified socks, anything that would reduce clutter. We carried the black bags out to the dumpster and, within hours, their contents were littered on the pavement in front of the building, part of a routine evening’s foraging. Still, it was disconcerting to see our junk spread out so rudely. As an admitted pack rat, it took some effort to throw things out, and to see them starring back at me from the sidewalk was a little abrupt.
We are on our own as we get older and begin to live in buildings where homeless men have deemed it profitable to go through the trash. I don’t know if the world is grim. George Bush is still here, but so are we, and the business of national affairs — the act of reading a newspaper — has advanced from emotionally distressing to a detached comedy of blackness. It’s not that there’s no hope, just that the idea of hoping itself seems bankrupt. We experience these things together. Look, I don’t know if they mean anything, or if it’s self-important hot air, but here we are, my friends and I, and it’s happening.

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