Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride   (2016Mar21)


Monday, March 21, 2016                                                  5:57 PM

That was snow—they weren’t wrong—but it came when we were sleeping and left before lunch, melting away in embarrassment from showing up on the first day of Spring. This weather is weird. But I’m not freaking out. Climate change is a disturbing vision, but I’ve been on worse planets than this.

20150202XD-Me_n_Book(FPx 202)_CLOSE_UP

I read a lot of Dickens and other old classics way back when—those sorts of books really put you right in the picture—I could sense the streets, the parlors, the vernacular, the pace, the mores, the rhythm of the changing seasons as experienced in a prior century or two. It became clear to me that life was not always the way I was used to life being.


I read science fiction, too—Verne and Huxley, Clarke and Asimov, and many others. These stories imagined a future time, with changed streets, different mores, and settings and devices that would seem strange if they appeared in our present. They sparked my imagination just as the classics had—but made me think of how the present might change over time and become something unimaginably different from what I was used to—just as my time was so very different from the days of Dickens.


Now that reality has, in many ways, surpassed the wildest surmises of the sixties science fiction writers, I feel unusually well-prepared compared to the average person. While I was certainly surprised to see bookstores fade away overnight—along with stationary stores, tobacco shops, electronics stores—and sometimes whole small-town main streets full of stores and shops, replaced by a K-Mart or a Target—I was not shocked. When the state of Florida becomes a coral reef in ten years, I’ll just make sure I don’t buy property there—I’m not going to run around hysterical, like my hair was on fire. My childhood had prepared me for a changing future. I can’t help but wonder if some well-chosen science fiction reading might not be good insight for all schoolchildren.


Then again, today’s kids would probably read e-books off an LCD screen—they are born into a ceaselessly changing culture and will live a ‘science fiction’ existence through their formative years—so perhaps my reading list would be unnecessary—it is certainly outdated.


Alvin Toffler wrote his “Future Shock” in 1970—it warned of information overload and social isolation—and we are living his prophesy—though many techno-geeks in Silicon Valley would ‘sell’ that as miraculous progress, rather than a problem. It’s a tough call—but one thing that’s undeniable is that we are giving up something in exchange for our brave new world—and we don’t know ourselves well enough to judge right now whether we’ll come to regret some of those losses—we’re in a ‘new is better’ autopilot mode now.


Early Europeans deforested their continent to the point where they saw the New World’s virgin forests’ lumber as a treasure trove. Early Native Americans of both continents hunted their large game animals to extinction—so they never saw a cow or a horse until the European invaders imported them. American cities nearly choked themselves to death before they recognized the smog situation and started limiting and filtering exhaust—and now the Chinese, having done the same damned thing fifty years afterward, are just starting to legislate emissions-controls. Anyone who thinks that humankind as a group will show some self-control in the face of dire consequences is no student of history.


In the case of our new, digital culture, we don’t even know what sort of harm we’re inviting with all these changes—so we’re certainly going to keep right on merrily doing whatever we do—and even when the cracks start to show, we’ll just shrug it off and bull ahead. Sounds like a wild ride.


Leave a Reply