Sunday, November 07, 2004

Outlook

The first explosions of the day startled me on my run. Drawing me out of the usual contemplative state, I felt the urge to scan the pieces of sky between houses and trees for their source and their reward - brief, brilliant showers of light.

Later, I welcomed M home to the intermittent, muffled sounds of the festivities outside. We ate and spoke for a long time, meandering between topics. Lying on the bed, I watched him succumb to sleep early - too tired to resist the softness and warmth despite the mounting noise outside. My breathing gradually matched and I found myself mesmerised by the ceiling's reflections of the outside sky. Staccato blasts picked up pace dramatically until one noticed the silence between them more acutely than the abrupt sounds themselves. I snuck out of the bedroom as quietly as I could, knowing I had to go outside and watch.

Pulling my favorite scarf high around my neck, I opened the door, stepping out onto my street and the silent, swirling, heavy mix of fog and smoke. The street itself was eerily empty, sulphur lights tinting everything the colour of a yellowed sepia photograph. Above, swathes of cloud briefly lit up on the horizon as fireworks too far away to hear rent themselves to pieces in a ghostly, flickering flash. The sound of a hundred explosions followed me as I walked - some softened by their distance, others sharp and crackling with nearness.

I headed to the bridge, my footsteps soft and silent on damp Autumn leaves, my face cold and upturned, ready to catch the smallest glimpse of fire. Surprised, yet selfishly pleased that the bridge was devoid of other spectators, I climbed the stairs and saw for the first time the sources of the noise. I reached the platform and pressed my body against cool metal railing, facing the few glass office buildings of the city and the mass of urban sprawl between the centre and my home.

I looked up and around, the sky was a bracelet of twinkling gems appearing and dissappering, set in various colours and intensities. Arcs of pure light suddenly sparkled, danced and some chased each-other like sprites before falling and disappearing forever, their sound and light rushing toward me in disjointed succession.

I've always enjoyed fireworks, but fell deeply in love years ago during the annual Perth skyshow that is put on by local radio stations to celebrate Australia Day. Barges filled with some of the world's most expensive shells are tethered to the middle of the wide bulge in the Swan river around which much of the city is built. Thousands of people crowd around the banks, all tuned into the same radio station which plays a soundtrack coordinated to the event. To say it's spectacular is an understatement. The fact that we take it for granted every year is why I love Australia and it's abundant, jubilantly enjoyed wealth so much.

The particular year I remember had a strong wind blowing some of the fireworks toward the city side, where I had managed to find a spot mere metres from the water. I stood with my legs planted wide, hands in my pockets and head tilted straight up, savouring the feeling of wanting to run and duck from fireworks that seemed to be exploding too close to me. The experience was decliciously frightening, I could feel the vibrations of shells exploding against my chest and a cold ash falling, brushing my face and neck ever so softly. I can remember the feeling now if I close my eyes - being enveloped by the experience, the sound, the light, the music and the simple, pure joy.

Today I stood on the bridge, my heart light, enjoying the challenge of trying to take in numerous displays at once. I would watch rockets ascend, struggle against gravity, then flare into glorious colours and shapes on cue. Some spent much energy rising beautifully in showers of sparks and ended their life in a brief burst of light. Others rose silently, almost imperceptibly, then ruptured in a thunderous boom to release concentric sparks into the night. I realised that when I detected a shell rising in the distance, I would stop breathing in anticipation of it's blast.

360 degrees of possibility and no warning where the next dazzling explosion would come from. I caught sight of one that proved to be spectacular and almost directly overhead. Looking up, I took in the sight of the glimmering gold and violet star with the guileless absorption of a child. I smiled at the sky and for a moment thought that I must look rather silly, standing on a bridge alone, grinning at nothing.

Unbidden, a name came to mind - John C. Dvorak. I wondered what he would make of this - of someone unashamedly abandoning themselves to enjoying something. I decided it likely that my behavior would receive a scathing review in his juvenile manner, as does almost every other enjoyment of others'.

I came across his writing only a couple of weeks ago. Reading 'The Zeros vs The Ones', I quickly developed a dislike for this man that surprised even me. How could one forgive anyone for the following sentiments:

"I used to think that everyone was entitled to his opinion, but no longer." and "I'm not suggesting that because most opinions stink they should be censored in order for us all to think a certain way." - Not being entitled to air one's opinion is censorship, John.

"...the Internet will prove to be the undoing of society and civilization as we know it." - Not the undoing, a major part in the evolution that society has been endlessly engaged in since we first started living in huddles around campfires.

"If it were up to me, I'd shut down the Net tomorrow" - Needless to say, I'm very glad that very little in the world is up to Dvorak.

What a sad, sad old man. I was irresistibly drawn to the rest of his writing and found that, if at all possible, my opinion of him decreased further. Whether it be musings about home computers, disruptive technology, networking, software, ISP's or Podcasting, most of his articles just seemed to be a lot of whining about minor inconveniences and latching onto single, isloated problems for the sake of having something negative to say. There were times when his facts seemed distorted and his thread of reasoning terribly tenuous in it's bid to paint the most cynical picture possible.

I do realise that it's important to question new developments in technology, to be thorough and honest in assessments, to be careful as an investor not to be caught in the hype - but he does it with such lack of grace, such thinly-veiled hostility and sneering toward those who embrace the new development with joy that all I can feel in turn is pity. Pity for him in his impotent rage against a world that is seemingly moving too fast for him to play catch up with comfort.

You see, it's also important - and downright enjoyable - to revel in the neatness, coolness, speed, beauty and functionality that new developments bring. Just being able to immerse yourself in the idea, the potentiality and the sudden possibilities that are now open. To click on a button and suddenly hear the voice of someone on the other side of the planet, to select a song from hundreds on a tiny device and have it play perfectly and crisply in your ear as you sit on train, to click your mouse and send a communication to one person or to hundreds with the same ease. To suspend calculating judgement for just a moment to revel in something. To stand on a bridge looking up at the sky with a big grin on your face because the experience just feels so good.

I feel sorry that the man can't seem to muster up any enthusiasm for technology in a time when we are being inundated with developments from various sources. Then again, maybe I'm missing something. Perhaps it's very sophisticated to pretend to be unmoved, perhaps it's a sign of discernment to be uniformly disparaging and cuttingly cruel. Maybe that's the way to get a contract to write tech pieces that are different to everyone else's.

There's something about that kind of sophistication, though, that leaves me cold. Unfashionable though it may be, I can't see the joy in looking at something only to criticise.

I stood on the bridge for a long time, until my nose and cheeks stung from the cold and the fireworks dwindled to sporadic displays too far away to interest me. It didn't take me long to dismiss Dvorak and his approach - there were too many good things in the world that mitigated his words and made his views seem laughably impotent.

M


(Cross-posted to A Western Heart)

NB: for you Aussies and Americans, I live in London - I'm describing Guy Fawkes night here which happened on Friday.


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