This line keeps bumping around my brain, obviously having lots of room in there. It’s from a few seasons ago on “30 Rock,” and an enthusiastic beeper salesman dismisses cell phones in one optimistic swoop.
“Technology is cyclical,” he says.
It’s a funny line because we know the truth, because we know he’s a stupid man who doesn’t get it, because we know that beepers are never coming back.
That’s the thing about genies; they’re flashy and fun to have around, but they don’t like getting back in the bottle.
Here’s another truth: Most of us will never get a smaller TV, a bigger cell phone or a slower computer. We can resist all sorts of things, stay away from bells and whistles (and ringtones), stick with basics and refuse to upgrade, but we never go back. Technology is a one-way street.
But what do we do with it?
This is a 3 a.m. question for me, something to think about when I can’t sleep and I don’t particularly want to play.
My options in the middle of the night seem limitless: I can watch one of tens of thousands of movies or TV shows offered online, I can read millions of words, I can play games, I can look at as many pictures of cats as I want to, which would not be very many.
I can do whatever I want, it seems, with endless opportunities to distract my sleepy self thanks to technology, but the other night none of them appealed to me. I found myself awake and bored with the Internet.
So I took a walk.
This was inspired by Hosea Jan Frank, otherwise known as ze Frank, a man interested in all things online, how we communicate and what we can do with it.
I watched (online, of course) a short lecture he gave in which he suggested taking a virtual walk from our past, using Google Street View.
Street View has been in the news lately, but it’s never been free from controversy. Their vehicles roam our streets, equipped with 360-degree cameras that capture all sorts of things, some of them useful and some inadvertant. Crimes, accidents, funny mishaps and blurry people have all ended up on Google Street View, along with questions of invasion of privacy.
But it’s essentially a tool, occasionally helpful and sometimes just fun. I took ze Frank’s suggestion, then, and went back in time.
Did I mention it was 3 a.m.? I believe I did.
I went back to the house I lived in as a teenager, and a walk I made in those formative years until my first friend got a driver’s license and a car; that is, I walked to school. Virtually.
And safely, since as I understand it taking a real walk in my old neighborhood would only be fun if I were a person who was sort of a risk taker.
Was it all that different from the low-tech version, flipping through a photo album? Yes, partly due to our old friends, suspension of disbelief and persistence of vision.
Wanting it to be real made it feel real, although there were also surreal differences. These are just panoramic pictures stitched together, taken at different times and on different days; moving through an intersection, suddenly the season would change.
Lawns would go from green to yellow, cars would disappear, clouds would shoot across the sky. It had a cinematic feel, someone’s idea of a dream.
The memories weren’t shy. Family and friends made their appearances, some of them no longer with us. And I was surprised at how many markers I saw that related to girls; my heart was broken in front of this house, in that park, on that corner. It was a walk through unrequited love, funny.
I reached my former high school, redesigned but still familiar, and caught a glimpse of kids on the sidewalk, holding up signs for a car wash. They stood in front of a tree I helped plant on an Arbor Day a million years ago.
That’s what it felt like, too, a million years, a National Geographic special on the origins of my life.
And it seems odd now, after the fact, a strange way to spend 20 minutes, reconstructing a journey that was over a long time ago, but I can still endorse it.
And if you want to try it yourself (and some of you will), drop me a line if you want; I’d be curious as to your reaction.
I had several, in fact, but mostly I was reminded that motion can feel like an illusion until I remember where I’ve been, what I thought and what happened next.The tree is taller, the house has been torn down, some barely-remembered girl broke up with me right there, I wonder if she remembers me, and if she remembers why.