Future City: London’s Olympic legacy

Now that the Olympics have been over for almost three weeks, I think I’m FINALLY over the severe depression that comes after one hell of a party. For two magical weeks, London wasn’t London: People were friendly! The tubes ran on time! Even the weather behaved! Well mostly….

And what a show the city put on – from Team GB smashing the medal tally to permanently high excitement levels and endless cultural activities this was an amazing time to live in the capital of Old Blighty. In short – London delivered. Greg Baum of the Sydney Morning Herald even conceded that London trumped Sydney in 2000 saying, ‘[London’s] Olympics had Sydney’s vibrancy, Athen’s panache, Beijing’s efficiency and added British know-how and drollery.” Jon Stewart dryly noted that London managed to put into the Opening Ceremony the only thing Beijing left out – actual humans.

But taking a step back from the Games, the real dividend gained by London was the culmination of all the capital investment and urban transformation that has taken place in preparation. To look at the London of 2012, is a very different picture to the London of 30 years ago. In the space of my lifetime, this city has become a place people actually want to visit and live in as opposed to a place people feel beholden to come to due to colonial apron strings, financial concerns or because it’s the ‘gateway to Europe’.

Don’t get me wrong, London is still far from perfect. The anger that boiled over in the London Riots last year is a case in point, as are the continued difficulties navigating such a labyrinthine city structure, steep transport costs and high rates of petty crime. And let’s not talk about the weather.

These problems weren’t magically washed away because of two weeks of sporting glory but London managed to leverage the Olympics to not only push through vast new infrastructure with long-term benefits but to also challenge perceptions about how the city functions.

While London is one of the world’s most developed cities, it hasn’t always been one of the most enjoyable. As Pritiker Prize winning architect Richard Rogers’ says, ‘It’s hard to remember how depressing London was in the seventies and eighties.’ He argues that London has returned with a vengeance since the bleak days of Thatcher and if the Olympics represents London coming into its own in the 21st Century, the Tate Modern’s opening in 2000, marked the inception of this new era.*

We all know the amazing story of Tate Modern – How Sir Nicholas Serota took the almost recklessly bold decision to use the location of an old Power Station, in a disused part of town with no tourist amenities nearby. But nobody envisaged just how successful it would be – the Southwark area around Tate Modern has subsequently been completely regenerated and the gallery is set to expand in the future to deal with high visitor demand.

If Tate represents the beginnings of London forging a modern identity, areas such as Kings Cross and Hackney further illustrate the city’s growth and adaptability. 20 years ago, the inner-East suburb of Kings Cross was a rough transport hub notorious for rampant prostitution and drug abuse. Now the Eurostar departs from here, Kings Cross station has been impressively extended, the trendy Central St Martin’s College has moved into a purpose built space and there is still over £10 billion worth of redevelopment slated to take place (such as Google’s new London headquarters).

While the suburb has resembled a large construction yard for the past five years, many of the projects were pushed through to finish in time for The Olympics, and what a difference the lack of cranes makes. Beyond the immediate area of the station are still your manky chicken shops and council flats, but there are now smart urban pathways, chic bars, galleries and gastro pubs making this a place to actively visit, instead of purposely avoid.

In the bidding process for the 2012 Olympics, London had a firm focus on legacy, of putting in a sustainable long-term development plan that would see the Eastern suburbs continue to grow after Olympic fanfare had died down.

The 1992 Barcelona Games provided the model for London. Spanish architect Josep Acebillo, who led the Barcelona Olympic project said: “We were the first Olympics conceived primarily for the transformation of the city. London was influenced by our philosophy.” Of the £10 billion public funds pledged for the Olympics, only 10% went towards new sporting venues, while the bulk was used for improvements to transport, housing and re-shaping Barcelona’s seafront. According to Mayor Jordi Hereu, the Games “were the start of Barcelona going from a local to a global city.”**

London was already a global city, but the pitch here was to go from malfunctioning to modern, to transform the deprived East into a relevant part of the larger city. Unlike post-Olympics Athens and Beijing where the sporting venues have been underutilised or left to gather dust, London has ensured there is a purpose for each venue. West Ham football club will take over the main stadium; the Athletes Village will be transformed into residential apartments. Other venues will be dismantled and sold after the Paralympics end – Rio has already expressed an interest in the de-mountable basketball stand for 2016 but there is no information yet as to what will become of the world’s largest McDonalds….

London also pushed through a huge piece of infrastructure in the form of the gleaming new Overground rail system. This massive commitment to join East to West and provide transport options beyond the beleaguered tube, has opened up whole swathes of the city and made them accessible in a way that was inconceivable ten years ago.

How the Olympic park will knit into the East London community will be the ultimate answer to the Games legacy but the city has already proven that leveraging deadlines based on a global event is the most effective way to raise money, sort out approvals and deliver large scale projects on the ground. The calibre of the delivery is directly related to the vision that has accompanied the project. London has envisioned well and delivered much to be proud of and grow from as it enters a new phase of modernity. In the post-Olympics world, London as a city has a great deal to look forward to.

* For a thorough evaluation of Tate Modern’s place in London – and Sir Nicolas Serota’s role within this –see Calvin Tomkins, Profiles, “The Modern Man,”in The New Yorker
** All quotes about Barcelona taken from The Standard

Freerange Cooperative?

Dear Freerangers!

Things have been looking up and up for Freerange. We have now released 4 journals (with two more to come this year!), around 6 books, and have a functional and awesome website with 2 new articles a week appearing on it.

We have around 2000 people on our contact list, and around 2000 people a month visit the website.

We don’t really make any money, but do cover our costs and are about to give $2000 to Architecture for Humanity to do a project in Christchurch from the sales of Chur Chur: Stories from the Christchurch earthquake.   We do have enough funds in stock to continue printing future copies of our Journal as they come out (and hopefully pay myself back soon for the original investment.)

The increased participation and consolidation of Freerange has been massively helped by the ongoing support of folk like Shakey Mo, and Gina Moss and more recently by Nick Sargent, Byron Kinnaird and Jacqui Moyes.   Plus heaps of others that help edit, write, produce, consume the online and printed content.

All this makes me think it might be time to formalise the organisation of Freerange.  So far it has legally just being me operating as a sole trader, and with the informal notion that this is a cooperative.  I’d like to look into setting freerange up as a proper legal cooperative, which would share the ownership and the gains of ownership between us in some way.  There are a number of different types of Cooperative, and it’d be great if any of you were interested in participating in working through how we might do it.

http://www.nz.coop/understanding-cooperatives/ is good, or just google around.

The one that jumps out initially is a kind of producer coop where we are join as creative producers (of text, images, design etc) and Freerange is a vehicle for us to spread, sell and disseminate our work to producers (and each other). i don’t think this would significantly change they way we operate now apart from:

  • Making the whole thing more inclusive and transparent,
  • Setting us up as a proper company (we can be a not-for-profit if we want)
  • We could use it to increase the subscription rates if we wanted by making that a mandatory act of being in the cooperative so we pay to join, but all get copies of the journal for that cost.
  • If we do this we can buy a .coop web address.  How funny would freerange.coop be?  Like a chicken coop!

So what does everyone think? any thoughts?


Heartbreak, despair and life lessons in earthquake town: Discovering we don’t actually have absolute rights to ‘our’ land and homes.

In 1942 my grandparents Elsie and Jack Locke moved to Christchurch with their young son Don, and bought a run down workers cottage. This was 392 Oxford Terrace, on the banks of the Avon River, in a community that came to be known as the Avon Loop. At first they were unimpressed with what must have been a damp, dark and small four-roomed house, until they looked back at the river from what was to become Elsie’s study. The river and its banks held much promise; so there they stayed and had three more children. The youngest was my mother who was born in the cottage itself, a rarity in the early 1950’s.

Years later, in the 1980’s my mother settled with my Dad to have us three kids further down stream towards the ocean. We made weekly trips back and forth between that home and the Avon Loop. Ten doors down on Oxford Terrace lives my Dad’s mother, our Grannie, Janet. We spent years along this stretch of the river with our cousins, popping in and out of the cottages, running along the riverbank, swinging in the branches of the willow trees, and revelling in the nurturing attention of our grandparents and the Avon Loop community at gatherings and festivals on the riverbank.

In recent years the Avon Loop has consisted of approximately eighty houses and numerous units in council flats. It has had a long-standing history of strong community resilience. The area started out as neighbourhood of workers houses in the late 1800’s, and became an area for young families in the 1940’s, when my family’s connection to the place began. In the mid 1970’s, a hotel in the Loop threatened to take over much of the community in its proposed expansion, prompting a coordinated community resistance. This heralded the birth of the Avon Loop Protection Association, now known as the Avon Loop Planning Association (ALPA). ALPA won, ensuring that all future developments needed to consult with the community. Furthermore, ALPA created a strong bond between all the residents, young and old, who shared the common aspiration of a connected and responsive community, where all voices and opinions could be heard. A place for the people who took care of the location that supported them, the river itself. ALPA settled into its role as the kaitiaki, the guardians of the river. My grandparents started a recycling scheme, planted the riverbank with natives and instigated the creation of a community cottage and children’s playgroup with ALPA.

However, since September the 4th 2010, anyone connected to Christchurch has had their lives changed forever. Due to two devastating earthquakes and all the smaller ones in between huge parts of Christchurch have been damaged beyond repair. The Avon Loop community was badly damaged, and this time the people have had no power or control over the fate of the community. No means to take part in the subsequent decisions made by the Government regarding the ongoing occupation of the Loop or what will become of the area in the future.

Nearly two years on from that cool spring morning in September 2010, I am sharing my story of the change and loss my family has suffered and continues experience as a result of the earthquakes. The home us kids grew up in out in the suburb of Burwood, a mudbrick house built by family, has crumbled and must be rebuilt. And we are also in the process of losing our family home, our cottage in the Loop, to land zoning and bureaucracy.

The undamaged cottage in which my parents currently live, is a beautifully built house, completed just after the February 2011 earthquake, using the materials from the original cottage that stood on the same site at 392 Oxford Terrace. The new cottage looks the same as the old one from the riverbank, and looks out onto the broken and dying magnolia trees my grandparent’s ashes are buried under. It is nestled among many others, half fallen down, demolished or abandoned. The cottage survived the earthquakes in one piece brilliantly, however the Loop has been red zoned as the riverbank is badly damaged and the land the houses sit on has sunk. The Government is unwilling to fix the riverbank, and insurance companies will no longer cover individual residences because of the new flood risk to the houses. This means all the houses will eventually have to go, whether the houses themselves are sound or not. Our parents have to leave their undamaged, year old home, as does our 92 year old Grannie who lives around the corner. She was on track to live out her days in her home with the support of my parents, however she will now be shifted to a retirement home.

At night there aren’t many lights on, a few here and there in between patches of darkness. It really does feel like coping with imminent death, as more and more households leave the Loop, finding new strong houses and communities elsewhere. This community in which I grew up in with my family, is in the process of dying. Gone are the dreams of living in a supportive, vibrant and happy community, within walking and biking distance of the city centre, living by the river and enjoying family so nearby.  Coping with this situation is very difficult, every day is different. Some days I am angry, others peaceful and accepting. It is an unknown, and no doubt long process we are all moving through together. I am still in shock and disbelief at it all, and sometimes I wonder when I will move on to the ‘next stage of grief’, to get closer to acceptance and healing. I don’t know how these things work, I’ve never felt grief like this before.

There is nothing we can do, lest we pump all of our money into a court battle with the Government we would inevitably lose. Since the second, most damaging and deadly February earthquake, the National Government established an authoritarian department called the ‘Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority’, CERA. It is headed by MP Gerry Brownlee, and has effectively taken over the Christchurch City Council’s ability to lead the city’s direction in the future. CERA has a mammoth task co-ordinating a city wide replan, rebuild and repair job, and makes it harder for itself by shutting out affected residents. They are excluding residents and alI the ideas, opinions and experience they have to offer, as well as many professional experts in areas such as design and architecture. Why they have made it impossible for public input is questionable, and as they rarely release any information, technical or otherwise we are left to feel shut out, shut down, disregarded, suspicious and disempowered.

Our family has been learning the hard way that we do not really own land and houses, just the rights to them. The Crown virtually owns New Zealand, which I argue was mostly stolen from Maori. Anyhow, the Crown, enabled by the Government can forcibly remove the rights you have to your land in such events as these. We could think of ourselves as lucky as they are buying out the entire Avon Loop along with many insurance companies, so we do not leave empty handed, if not very short changed, but I cannot consider us lucky. In fact I am fearful. I am scared that as we come back to the Loop less and less, our memories will fade. Each day I have spent there, and spend there now, walking around the riverbank and cottages, I see places that remind me of my grand parents and other memories with family. The community causes me to think daily of my connection to the land and the people on it. I am worried about what will happen when we don’t have this land. I am deeply saddened and frustrated that my daughter will not visit the Loop very often, and will have much less physical reminders of her family roots. She will not remember the time that we were here at all, as she is just two years old. I have taken all of this for granted my whole life, and now I see that not many people have grown up with such a home base.

What is certain is that next April 2013, our family will move out of the Loop, but what will become of the undamaged cottage remains to be seen. Will the Christchurch City Council be convinced to buy it as a park visitor centre? Can it be shifted to another location, or will it be deconstructed within two years of being built, reduced again to a pile of wood as the original cottage was only three years ago.

I currently feel very angry and deeply sad about our predicament, however I know that we will find a new family base somewhere when the time is right. I also know that I will be stronger for this experience, once the wounds begin to heal, and that there are many life lessons we are in the process of learning. I am not sure what they are exactly yet as I feel we are still in the midst of it all. But one thing that is for certain, which comforts me to no end, is that Nana and Grandad will forever remain in the earth on the riverbank, and for this reason alone we are forever bound to the Avon Loop, whatever may come of it in the future. It is sure that machinery will eventually dig up their resting places in order to restore the fragile, collapsed riverbank, or turn it all into a park. However, we will always return to be with our parents and grandparents, with Elsie and Jack Locke, no matter what the uncertain future holds for the river, its banks and the land the houses once stood on in the Loop. They are in the earth and a part of me, therefore I am in the earth and it is me.
















































Heart Your Institution

Earlier in August, the Australian Institute of Architects (‘the Institute’) deployed, analysed, and published the “Graduate Survey 2012” so that they could “develop programs and initiatives to suit the specific needs of this demographic.” It is an important initiative for the Institute because any representative group should regularly take stock of the experiences and expectations of its members, as this should inform quite explicitly what an institution should be focusing its resources and energy on while also maintaining momentum in their core trajectory, which in the case of architects, usually reads something like ‘promoting the value of architects’ and ‘promoting the value of architecture and design in improving the quality of the our lives’.

It’s worth analysing that the Institute, and similar national representative organisations, like the New Zealand Institute of Architects and the Royal Institute of British Architects, are a membership-driven representative group of practicing (or aspiring) architects, meaning their advocacy is prioritized to the experiences, needs, quality of life, and professional sustainability of architects.

This differs slightly, but importantly, from other institutions and groups such as the Danish Architecture Centre, Netherlands Architecture Institute, and the Wellington Architectural Centre, whose advocacy prioritizes the promotion, dissemination and education of architecture as a social and cultural aspiration benefitting the general population’s experiences, needs and quality of life.

Of course both types of groups work substantially and passionately for the advocacy of architects and architecture because they are naturally interwoven, but their differences exist, and are played out more forcefully when resources are scarce.

When the body gets cold, blood leaves the extremities to keep the center warm.

An important canary down the mine-shaft of institutionalisation is membership convergence. In my experience, these two types of groups differ wonderfully if you characterize their membership. The New Zealand Institute of Architects for example is a large and increasingly coherent group, but are expensive to join, and you’re probably indifferent about why you’re joining anyway. The Wellington Architectural Centre has a small, and colourful membership, are cheap to join, and because you doubted joining in the first place, are a much more motivated member of the Centre.

What I want you to consider then, is when it does get cold out, and the air is getting rank (to recklessly mix metaphors), are you at the heart of your institution, or will you find yourself out on a limb, freezing your tits off.

Liberal Lady

I don’t miss you. In these miles of skies and
blue tinged eyes…..I don’t miss this.

An all-consuming, non-existent hunger
A table full of food – fridge full of waste

Always eating, never hungry – an excessive taste
of air-conditioned space.

Your jokes – make me choke on my
short stack, maple packed
fluffy white
industrial delight.

I could pay the bill – if I wanted to,
you know –
to and fro – to and fro

After 11 years away, the world has changed,
But you haven’t – still the same
excess and consumption –
You greedy lady of Liberty you.

The concrete layer cake of my childhood

Part 1: Lost in Time and Space

It’s 1988. The same year that Seoul had the summer Olympics, Sonny Bono was elected Mayor of Palm Springs, the former Soviet Union was initiating its economic reform (Perestroika) under Mikhail Gorbachev, Sonic Youth’s fifth studio album ‘Daydream Nation’ was released and incidentally also the same year I somehow managed to get myself locked into the Dunedin Public Library for one whole hour.

I shall now inform the reader that this short tale as a whole is indeed ‘factual’ by nature (well mostly let’s say); fragments are inevitably from the dusty recesses shelved (or not shelved as the case may be) within my memory or ambiguously pieced together from forgotten dreams.

To begin the story, it was like any old weekend school trip to the public library. Yes, you heard me… weekend. I was eight years old at the time. It was the same weekend that Margaret Mahy was going to grace us with her presence and read us some stories at the library. As someone who grew up in Dunedin, the curious behemoth of layered concrete known as the Dunedin Public Library (designed by the City Council’s Architectural Division) always had a seemingly omnipresent, yet comforting feel as a ‘civic surveyor’ of the Octagon city-scape.

Ms. Mahy had read us kids a story during which the mid-afternoon light shifted across the surfaces of the room. The light danced across her rainbow wig like a penumbral halo, gifted to us temporarily from the heavens above. From that point on, my memories dim. I vaguely recall people emptying the space around me as unconscious peripheral shadows during which time the teacher had somehow miscounted the head count.

Voices muffled. Daytime faded into early evening. I was lost in my own little world, doodling I suspect. Within moments I found myself alone… alone to explore my ghostly surrounds.

I had always thought of the building as a giant ‘layer cake’, where the spongi-ness was present as concrete. This now reveals my former obsession with dessert treats. I remember various past school trips, trolling through the shelves and finding myself lost within the books. It seemed all too easy to escape into the womb of my imagination by venturing into a window box or simply resting on the warmth of the carpet floor.

The escapism was most definitely the jam filling between the layers of concrete sponge. In a sense, I feel that libraries lead a wonderful double life with their role as public places in the city – as public places they facilitate both collective and personal intimacy as a refuge for the mind and soul.

Alas my hour was soon at an end. The scene was retold as a slightly embarrassed but relieved teacher escorting an eight year old kid out of the building whilst clutching colouring-in books and looking at his shoes the entire time.

For me, the Dunedin Public Library has and always will be about Margaret Mahy’s rainbow wig, colouring-in books, felt-tip pens and that single hour of my life where I thought the world was quite a different place.

Part 2: Stories of Time in Space

An interest of mine is stories of buildings and places. The belief is that both personal and wider social narratives have the possibility to do more for architectural production than one can anticipate or perhaps, to an extent, appreciate. As one important Sociologist Henri Lefebvre, has already mentioned in his book The Production of Space in the most devastatingly succinct manner possible:

“(Social) space is a (social) product”

The simplicity of this statement belies both an intricate and complex set of overlapping relationships concerning the production of space – where everybody produces space – from the personal to the political and the social to the representational. Stories in this sense have the ability to bring the flux of time and thus life into space; ‘the lived experience’ as embodied memories to buildings and places within a phenomenological dimension; i.e. social, cultural, political, historical, mythological and of course personal time.

Acknowledgments and thanks to the staff at the Dunedin Public Library for allowing me to photograph inside.

Boys in bands with beards

Take a walk down Melbourne’s Brunswick Street or through Bondi in Sydney and you’ll find yourself amidst a stream of trendy, indie types. Hipsters flood the second hand book stores and grass carpeted organic cafés and bars, dressed in leather shoes, tightly fitted jeans and a shirt buttoned all the way up. The latest addition to the hipster-esque ensemble is, however, the most intriguing. Beards.

They’re everywhere, bigger and bushier than ever. Beautiful men, in beautiful clothes, who often play beautiful music, will almost definitely sport a large sum of facial hair growing downwards from their chin. Boys in bands with beards are taking over the streets and the music industry right before our eyes. Don’t believe me? Check your iTunes. Matt Corby, Angus Stone, Bon Iver, Damien Rice, Josh Pyke, Dallas Green of City and Colour, one of the boys from Architecture in Helsinki has a crazy beard, it’s rare that all five of Passion Pit are cleanly shaven, one half of the Black Keys sports a massive beard, the list goes on. Basically, it seems, if you’d like to be trendy, or successful in the realm of the alternative or folk music scene, grow a beard and you’re set for stardom.

But where has this phenomenon come from that is filling our cities with facial hair to the brim?

Move over Movember. Beginning in Melbourne in the early 2000s and making a mark right across the world, Movemeber has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for prostate cancer research and men’s depression charities. Through the growth of millions of moustaches in support of the movement, moustaches began to trend in the music scene and on the streets, perhaps a humble beginning to the uprising of hipsters with facial hair. But fads do die, and so whilst many will still line their upper lip this November, currently beards take reign all year round.

Perhaps it’s an ode to ancient leaders. The most respected ancient Egyptians had great beards, often with gold strips plaited into them. Some even attached fake beards to gain hierarchy (who knew hair extensions existed back then!). In ancient India having a beard meant having wisdom and dignity, men with no beards in ancient Gaelic times were said to be dishonourable, and Spartans in ancient Greece partly shaved a man’s beard if he was a coward.

Maybe growing a beard is a religious thing, to do with inner peace and pleasant souls or whatever mumble jumble those hipsters will tell you. Jesus and almost all of his disciples had beards, so perhaps growing a beard would help inspire these trendy city kids to be good willed and humble, performing some kind of miracle upon their music. Your guess is as good as mine.

Oh what about pirates! Maybe the hipsters are making a statement like the peg-legged notorious sea captains. As well as the typical eye patch, parrot on shoulder, boat with skull flag, treasure map, and hoop earring, pirates almost always had beards. Cue Captain Redbeard and Blackbeard. Whilst the music playing boys might take over stages and festival line ups rather than the deep dark sea, perhaps the beard thing is about being different, making your own rules, and defying the straight-laced. Notorious leaders like Ned Kelly and bandana wearing bikies also fit this bill perfectly. They break the rules, make their own statements, and of course, have beards of lengths that are out of control. To further validate this, the upper-class are always cleanly shaven. Never do you see a man in a business suit at a corporate function with a beard. Oh the horror. Recently, an article was published reiterating this exact point, it stated that policemen are to be clean shaven, to maintain their power and class, and because “you can’t trust men with beards.” So whether it’s peg-legged or Harley Davidson inspired, notoriety and stepping outside the norm is also a beard influencing possibility.

There’s also the chance that, on the flip side, these boys in bands with beards want to be leaders of the great kind, rather than the rebellious kind – that or they’re just massive fantasy book nerds. Just look at Gandalf and Dumbledore; two of the greatest leaders to ever grace our bookshelves and cinemas, who lead their followers to victory and greatness. Perhaps these musos want to lead their fans into melodic victory and harmonious greatness, and find themselves fame along the way.

Maybe they’re just going for the rugged, just-got-out-of-bed look that rock n roll kings don because “the chicks dig it”, and because being carefree and a free spirit is like totally the best way to live man.

Maybe it’s simply because they’re struggling musicians and hipsters who can’t afford to buy a razor. Or maybe they’re just being lazy.

Whatever the reason is, it’s happened, and it’s a thing. Beards have taken that much flight there’s even an international beard community online who run the World Beard Championships and are currently mourning the loss of a dearly beloved heavily bearded man. For real. Another site, Beard.org, will help you grow a beard, let you show it off, teach you different styles, and even allow you to share your beard success story.

At the present time it’s guaranteed you will not leave your home without seeing at least one bearded man along your daily travels through the city. Hipsters will continue to flood trendy spots sporting beards of outrageous proportion, and boys in bands with beards will continue to fill our festival line ups and stages across the nation – that is, until something ‘cooler’ comes along. Maybe it’ll be sideburns next? Oh boy.

[information_box]NOTE: Quite independently from this article the founders of Freerange Press make a controversial claim to have accidentally started the international movember movement with a 3-years of Moustache Growing Competitions in 2000, 2001 and 2003 in Wellington. Named The Month of Mo, we gave the meager proceeds to Oxfam NZ. They were however amazing parties with Moustache poetry ciphers amongst other antics. There is a Polaroid photograph evidence in the bottom of suitcase somewhere.[/information_box]

Beyond 2000

You can fight progress 

If you had told the makers of Beyond 2000 that by 2012, we would be carrying large phones around in the pockets of our skinny jeans, they would have laughed in your face.
“By 2012,” they would have replied, “cellphones will be invisible and weightless.”
“And as for skinny jeans, what normal person can look good in those?”


In the short(ish) time since I finished high school, cellphones have gone from very large, to very small, and back to quite large again.  Meanwhile, trouser legs have tapered away at such an alarming rate that new vocabulary has had to be invented (cue the “jeggings”).  It’s a cruel twist of fate that one can barely fit a foot in a pair of jeans these days, let alone a smart phone.

Is this progress?  Is this the brave new world that scientists of the 90s promised me?  Because when I watched Beyond 2000 as a child, I saw (somewhat pixelated) images of a futuristic utopia, filled with hovercrafts, solar-powered cars, and robots that could cook you breakfast with a single thought.  Like Darth Vader – but nice, and helpful around the house.

I did not see images of my future self dangling my (ex-) boyfriend’s cellphone out the window after one too many ‘technological mini-breaks’.  I did not see myself shaking my fist at the sky as yet another friend textually cancelled our plans at the last minute (yes, I just used the word “textually.”  THIS IS WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT).  I could not have fathomed the technology-induced rage my future self would experience, all in the name of progress.

Now, I don’t consider myself an angry person.  But I am not above a good old progress-induced rant.  And if I had to order and number my rants of late, they would probably look a little bit like this:

1. Facebook status updates.  
I don’t want to know what my more popular, happy and successful acquaintances are having for dinner, or whose perfect boyfriend has cooked them pancakes and found the cure for cancer in the last ten minutes.

2. Text language
OMG. WTF is up with TXT language?  Trying to read it pains me.  Hearing it spoken aloud makes we want to sit in a corner and rock gently.
As I understand it, abbreviations were created to shorten words and make life easier, so saying them aloud is in direct opposition with that intent.  For instance, the letter ‘W’ is three syllables when spoken.  The word ‘what’ is only one.

3. Flakiness.
In times BC, (before cellphones), you made plans to do things and then you went and did those things.  You simply didn’t have the option of flaking out on someone, because that would make you the arsehole who left your friend waiting in the rain.  And nobody wants to be the arsehole who left their friend waiting in the rain…right?
The gift of cellphones has also given us the blessed gift of an escape clause; from any event, for any reason, or hell – for no reason at all!  Tired?  Got a better offer?  Just throw a few words into cyberspace, and you’re off the hook!  LOL.

4.  Technological slavery
Our forefathers worked damn hard to abolish slavery.  We owe it to William Wilberforce and his compatriots, and to the slavesthemselves, to resist the new and oppressive force of technological slavery.
JUST BECAUSE YOUR PHONE BEEPED, DOES NOT MEAN YOU HAVE TO LOOK AT IT.  Friends must be liberated from the perceived need to interrupt our very WITTY AND FASCINATING conversations, in order to read a message that is probably just their cellphone provider reminding them to top up.  It is WRONG and UNJUST, and also, it is ANNOYING ME.

5.  Divided attention
Buddha must be rolling in his grave, because never before has there been a society less present to the given moment.  Case in point, between starting and finishing that last sentence, I replied to an email, wrote a text message, checked facebook, and asked my flatmate if he wouldn’t mind picking up some milk on the way home.

6.  Conflict resolution
In the past, the art of healthy debate was alive and well.  I spent hours, weeks, of my teenage life debating petty and irrelevant details with my friends, without anyone conducting a google search and spoiling the fun.  I recall a particularly heated argument over how many times the word “gonna” featured in the N’Sync song “It’s Gonna Be Me”, and then another about whether it was the air or thetension we were proverbially cutting with a knife.  That debate ended, not with a conclusive google search, but with a lunchbox hurtling through the air.
And life seemed the richer for it.

I know, I know, it’s not all bad.  Technology has given us real gifts too.  Like the ability to watch videos of cats from all over the world; to skype friends and family; and to watch little videos of ourselves in the corner of the screen while we are skyping friends and family.

I know we can’t go back.  If I’m being honest, I wouldn’t even want that.  I came to that sudden and unexpected realisation when, halfway through writing this, my laptop was stolen from my flat.  My first reaction was to wonder if the technology gods were smiting me for my ingratitude.  I tried to see the funny side for a while, but then I gave up and just cried instead.
It was like Janet Jackson said: I didn’t know what I had until it was gone.  I didn’t realise how much I loved my laptop until it had been wrenched out of the wall and carried away out my flatmate’s window.

My laptop wasn’t just a piece of technology that froze at the worst times and crashed without saving.  It let me watch Downton Abbey in bed.  It let me work from home when it was raining outside.  It let me email my insurance company, and order a new laptop.
And when it was suddenly gone, I had to find other things to do, like play the guitar and talk to my flatmates and not get jealous of events I was missing out on.

And to think.  I had so much time to think.  During that surreal THREE DAY technology hiatus between losing my laptop and acquiring a new one, I came to a decision.  I decided to stop ranting about technology so much, and to stop writing my rants down and publishing them in places for other people to read them too.  I decided, instead, to be the change I wanted to see in the world.

I would not pike on invitations that I had previously accepted.  I would only check my phone during a coffee date if someone’s life depended on it  (or perhaps while the other person was in the toilet).  I would only start petty arguments about things that could never be proven by a google search.  And I would stop inwardly berating people who posted excessively happy status updates on facebook.
God bless you, perfect pancake-eating couples.

Maybe you can’t fight progress.  But you can point and laugh at it a little bit.