I don’t like strangers.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. Under certain very narrowly defined conditions, usually involving Profound Silence, Extreme Stillness, and Utter Lack Of Irritating
Smells, I rather enjoy meeting new people. Once in a while I’m even tempted to learn more about the fuckers, though I’d rarely act on it. It’s just that I’vebeen socially and culturally conditioned to loathe, despise, suspect and fear anyone Unfamiliar, Uncouth, Impolite or — worst of all — belonging to an ever-so-slightly-different-class. This isn’t because I’m a misanthropic grumpgasm of galactic proportions — though I may well be — but because I belong to that curious race of self-ruining beings known as The British.
Oh, I know. It sounds too easy — too fucking convenient — to dismiss all my festering neurotic palpitations with a simple wave of a Union Jack. But you can rail against
crappy stereotypes as much as you like: there’s always a nugget of truth inthere. We Brits, for instance, can’t stand attention seekers, are instantly cynical of anyone asking questions, will beam psychic cancer into any person identified as a Boaster, and would sooner gnaw off our own genitalia than start a conversation with someone we’ve never met. It’s not true of us all, all the time… but most and most? Yeah.
What’s all this got to do with the technology implied in the Plugged categorisation? Simply this:
Until very recently, Brits were socially constipated as a populace. Really and truly. Finally our communal sphincters have been artificially relaxed enough to squirt a few frothy dollops of interpersonal communication and, after decades of icicle-infested colonic backuppery, it’s all down to the softening laxative effects of Tasty Tek. Explanation forthcoming.
(Yanqui readers, bear with me here. You might learn something about yourselves in amongst all this, as well as scavenging additional ammunition to use against that race of
uptight scone-gobbling grammar-nazis from across the seas which you — naturally — Fear And Envy so highly.)
Listen. Historically the British culture of communication operated around self-sufficient quantum particles known as Villages. Within each closed social system an individual’s network of information exchange was restricted to — let’s say — two dozen friends and enemies, plus a few livestock, pond-ducks, and an occasional unexpected frothingly-insane wandering monk. That setup mutated a little over the centuries — perhaps The Village became The Mill, or The Regiment, or The Pub Regulars — but beneath the twitchy evolutions the denominator remained broadly the same: we are not a gregarious race. We relish a Small Ring.
(Arf, as they say, Arf.)
But it’s been getting harder. The world kept changing, the village got bigger, and as the number of people with whom we were expected to communicate every day soared —
and the levels of pre-established familiarity we enjoyed with each one of them plummeted — we became… well. Fucked. Crippled on a data-exchange level. Socially remtarded. Neurowanked out of the Chatclub and into the Pompous Cunt In The Corner Gang.
Suddenly, y’see, we found ourselves surrounded by more and more strangers, and over the yearsour sweaty discomfort and suspicion took on the aspects of genuine Cultural
Traits. We’ve inherited a reputation for pointless decorum, insane privacy and simmering resentment, all of which are — in fact — no more than the spastic side-effects of waking-up in a room full of, say, Loud And Obnoxious Outsiders. Naming no names.
(Incidentally, I’m not making this shit up. Anthropologist Kate Fox presents a similar theory in her seminal Watching The British, which is required reading for anyone
who either a) has frequent dealings with our clusterfucked little Island, or b) was born there.)
Anyway. Enter the TekGoblins.
See, with the advent of faceless communications, things have flipped on their heads yet again. First telephones, then — more criticially — mobile phones, then text messaging, then that scintillating intimacy-leveller The Net, and finally (when you reality-junkies wake up and smell the coffee), sub-astral lucidelic mushroomchat™. Even allowing for the slow takeup-rate of that last one, we Brits finally have a whole new village; one in which our fellow residents live all over the planet, our nearest neighbour isn’t necessarily the noisy reggae-obsessed cunt who lives next door, and all matters of vital local important revolve around celebrity gossip and the conviction that The Referee’s A Wanker. This is CultureQuake.
Suddenly we’re free to select our circle — with all the added shyness-negating confidence of knowing we’ll never have to actually meet these people — and it draws us
so far out of our shells that they inevitably get nicked by passing Cosmic Hermitcrabs and prevent us from ever Crawling Back In. The sudden freedom
cures our inherited addiction to privacy, breaks-down boundaries of curiosity and suspicion (after all, in a world where everyone is potentially a paedophile, why fear specific individuals?), and best of all leaves us every bit as rambly and verbose (“typose”?) as other populations, except with the added bonus of a lingering and entertaining aftertaste of bile, grouchiness and cynicism.
When online, us Brits are generally perceived as Lovely Cunts. Huzzah.
There’s a But.
During the years of isolation — those long centuries between a hobbit-like feudal existence and our current emergence into a newfound Digital Shire — an odd side-effect of our condition was an emphasis on importance. You don’t talk to strangers, no, but if you’ve got to, it better be about something fucking worthwhile. We grew, as a people, to despise smalltalk; unable to bring ourselves to chit-chat, falling back on lame (and shamefaced) enquiriesregarding the weather. Only when the really Meaty Stuff came out of the conversational cabinet — politics and crime and sex and drugs and scrotal pluckings and spine-piercings and scalp-ploughing — did we feel like we were truly
bonding with randoms.
And now? Now we’re getting back to the old ways: transplanting the village noticeboard for the ubiquitous Twitterfeed.
And — if you wanted to get all Dystopian about that — there are rough times ahead. Increasing connectivity, instant information exchange, fully integrated mobile communication… Sci-fi scribes have been postulating for years about a post-human condition of gestalt data-exchange: an abstract communal organism with one super-psyche and no individual cells. “Horrible!” they shriekd, with voices full of secret wonder and desire — subconsciously aware that what they’re really hypothesising is just the ultimate version of that Small Village fomula. Idea-based fluid transfer! Instant mass calculation! Imagineering on a cosmic level! Seeing naked chicks with no more than a blink!
Because, look. I ask you: what’s worse? A fractured global society of national flavours, over-the-top stereotypes, obnoxiousness, xenophobia and competing ideologies; poorly communicated and disastrously compromised, (as we earthlings currently suffer)—
—or a divine digital massmind with the ability to instantaneously transfer extraordinary amounts of data… but which nonetheless confines itself to the inane twirpings of gossipy, self-obsessed, trivia-fixated, conversation-regurgitating trend-starting Cunts?
Disconnected Horribleness or Interconnected Celebrity-based Bollocks.
Yay for the future of Britishness.
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C/O William Christensen
515 N. Century Blvd.
Rantoul, IL 61866
(Disclaimer: Secretly, I’m nice.)