Beepification

Leary here. I see Collin is worried about where this world is headed. And well he might be. Much of what he says about the iPad is true, but he doesn’t foresee the half of it, or the other snazzy devices coming just around the corner.

Anyway, I was reading some old notes the other day, stuff from way back at the start of my second half-century. I see that one day in Bangkok in 2010 I was riding the BTS. What some of us called the Skytrain. And just like Collin, I was wondering where technology was talking us. I looked around and counted 10 people with phones up against their heads. And there were a couple more I first mistook for loonies, people who appeared to be blathering away into thin air. But no, they had hands-free earphones, and only looked like loonies. And every time another ringtone went off, a few more people on that car would look down at their bags or slap their pockets.

When did everything first started beeping at us? By the turn of the century, for sure, you had your mobile phones, your pagers, PDAs, alarm clocks, microwave stoves, car doors, car alarms, seat belts, energy conservers, even personal computers—PCs, we called ’em—and gosh knows what-all squawking and beeping and driving everybody crazy.

They invented beeps scientifically designed to scratch your most basic anxieties, and they came up with long-life batteries so these friggin’ things would never run down. It got so the whole darned world was one big alarm system. A storm of beeps would hit you, and you’d have no idea who was supposed to be alarmed or why. All you knew was that something was ready or late or about to shut down, or blow up or something. Get up! Close the door! Put on your seatbelt! Get that cake out of the oven; change my battery; plug me in; talk to me; call me back; cheer up … Juststandbytillyouhearanotherfriggin’beep.

On top of all that, you had the music. Some of it, you didn’t know for sure if you were listening to the top of the pops or whether all your appliances were rioting. And the citizens who weren’t on their phones were plugged into MP3 players instead, little portable music machines, their heads leaking music when their headphones weren’t on tight. There was no escaping it. Darn it. You even got songbirds imitating mobile ringtones. We had a beeping mynah in our garden down Sukhumvit Road. “Run answer the bird,” my Ellie used to tell me.

The whole friggin’ world was beepified. And half the time, in the end, it was only a machine you were dealing with anyway. In fact, chances were it was only the machine that was alarmed, and you didn’t give a darn.

In some ways it got even worse in the Malls, after we all had to seal ourselves off from the rest of mondoland. Now there was no getting away from it. Though at least there wasn’t quite so much of it. There was MOM’s routine alert beep, for example, meaning to say she wanted to talk. Then there was her perimeter-breach alert, which Eddie Eight always claimed meant simply put your head between your legs and get ready to kiss your butt goodbye. And we had the request-chat beep, and the reading group beep. Eventually we even got the “gremlin beep.” That was something new. Some of the holotanks graffiti, and some of the cryptomajigs, beeped at you till you looked, and then they flashed and changed to something else, sometimes so fast you couldn’t be sure what you saw at first. It drove you nuts, if you thought about it too much. Then there were the happiness and connectivity deficiency beeps …

Most of you won’t have the faintest idea what I’m talking about, of course. From your point of view, this all happens decades in the future. Its best you read MOM. That’ll give you some idea of life in the Malls, and lots more.

Of course now the Malls are gone. And here in Aeolia we mainly get just the beeps we want. In our house, we have an old black Bakelite phone that rings that way telephones were first meant to ring, in the Beginning. And I talked Ellie out of specifying the mynah bird that imitated mobile ringtones. Not to mention the neighbor’s dog that could crow like a rooster. At first she wanted all this; but she traded the mynah and the dog for her 24-hour night-blooming jasmine and a full staff of ebee servants. “Verisimilitude,” is the word she used, the idea that things should be true to life, true to the way things were. But what’s the point of having all these godlike powers here in Aeolia if we don’t use them to make life a bit more comfortable than it used to be?

And we are gods, of a kind; though MOM remains God-in-chief, I guess. That’s if you discount the one true God that people used to talk about. Speaking of which, I personally would’ve set aside an eighth day, probably right after the sabbath, and put my mind to some last-minute refinements—things like a rewind button on existence. But it’s too late for that now, and we’ll just have to make do.

(I might have mentioned this already, but these notes are only ideas for Full of It, my second book—the story of my second half-century and, it looks like, I’m going to overshoot that mark by considerable. Half Full, the story of my first 50 years, was my first book.)

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