Saturday, March 18, 2006

Grandpa gripes

I’ll never forget – well, maybe I’ll forget; the years are long and memories get washed out with the tides – the first time my cousins brought their Game Boy to Jasper. We’d go out there every year in late summer/early fall, all my Mom’s side of the family, and stay in these cool little cabins. Go for trail walks, play soccer, throw rocks into the Athabasca, mess around with cheapass gift-shop bows and arrows… that kind of thing. Family times. Super Mario Land changed things.

Things would have changed soon, anyway; I was 16, the oldest of a string of cousins that included more teenagers every year. That year or the next, family times shifted to ski season, which meant I’d soon be spending those weekends reading Iron Man comics. That summer weekend in ’89 was to be one of the last of its kind for me… and all I can really remember is zoning into that dingy grey-and-yellow LCD, piloting Mario’s dinky little submarine through his claustrophobic undersea world, figuring out tactics by which I could get more time with my little cousins’ new toy.

I was reminded of that time – head down over that huge box that seemed so small, back to the mountain, oblivious to forests and family – the other weekend, when I went out with some people to a friend’s cabin. None of us are super high-tech gadget nerds, but there in the kitchen of a lakehouse that’s seen decades of a family’s cabbage rolls and card games, we had at least:

  • Two digital cameras; three if you count the one on my phone
  • One video iPod
  • One non-iPod MP3 player
  • Two PlayStations Portable
  • Three cell phones

… and it was weird. To be sitting in one rustic room, flipping through the local history book with its pictures of lake people from the turn of the century onward, reading warm notes from the drinking dead in the cabin’s guest log as a fire crackles in the stove, while one guy’s playing a sireneriffic game of Grand Theft Auto beside me and another guy’s in the other room using the other PSP to browse that day’s digital photos with people watching over his shoulder... and someone else is watching Daft Punk videos on the iPod. Weird? Creepy and wrong. The only thing that made it kind of OK was the fact there was fuck-all else to do, and we probably wouldn’t have gotten along doing it if there was.

Grandpa gripes? Yeah, maybe; I can’t help but feel resentful of the wide-eyed, internetworked, always-on LCD gizmocracy we’re plunging into. Global wireless multiplayer gaming on the go, Mario Kart against some dude in London while you’re waiting for your girlfriend to try on pants; sure… but why? Portable multimedia… your favorite movies and music with you wherever you go; why can’t I see myself – or, at least, see myself being proud of myself – whipping out my PSP to show off some hilarious video I found on the ‘net? Grandpa gripes? Yes; I am of the past.

Games are one thing, but it’s the cameras that are really starting to get to me. Not just the omnipresent surveillance cameras – and, man, we’ve sure been frogs in the saucepan on that score – but people’s personal snapshooters. The other day, three camera-happy friends and I went for a walk in the river valley and I felt like a model… or a stereotypical Japanese tourist in an 80s movie. Everywhere you turn, there’s a lens in your face… and every ten minutes, the thing everyone’s doing is hunching around an LCD looking at pictures of what they were doing ten minutes ago. Videos are even worse. It’s nice to be able to record fun times, but the economics of the situation are such that potential fun production is cut in half when half your time is spent reminiscing about events that haven't even left short-term memory. Instant nostaliga.

I gripe, but I’m guilty: I’m first in line going “lemme see!” when a buddy chuckles as he thumbs the jog wheel on his Canon; I snap cell photos and post them to the web; it’s me that introduced the PSP, the DS, the GBA to my circle. I just can’t believe where we are; in what feels like an eyeblink, the days of quiet cabins, analog entertainment and undocumented joy went away.

(photo for illustration purposes only; there were no N-Gages present at the cabin.)

1 comment:

Allan said...

I just stumbled my way into a video iPod and once it was in my grubby lil' mits I realized I was in the danger zone of never actually reading a book ever again, but I find myself using it far less than I thought I would. Hell, I spend far more time listening to Air America podcasts on my other iPod. Yes, I have two and yes I admit I have a problem.

And should I be pissed off that despite all of these cameras you talk about, no one seems to be pointing them at me?

So, yeah, I discovered your blog during another late night I can't write another fucking ghost story, so I'll google the names of every single person I've ever met session--hope you're cool with that. Like what you did with the MotW entries and I'm not even going to ask if anyone else at LP knows about them--I won't say anything if they don't, but at this point I doubt you care. Are we going to see any more or are you waiting for more illustrations?