Well, here was my first lesson: it had almost nothing to do with computers, the modernity I was trying to understand. Computers were the bones, but imagination, ambitions and possibility were the blood. These kids, they simply did not accept that the world as it is has any special gravity, any hold upon us. If something was wrong, if it was bad, then that something was to be fixed, not endured. Where my generation reached for philosophy and the virtue of suffering, they reached instead for science and technology and they actually did something about the beggar in the street, the woman in the wheelchair. They got on with it. It wasn't that they had no sense of spirit of depth. Rather they reserved it for the truly wondrous, and for everything else they made tools.— from Gnomon, by Nick Harkaway.
What is it I'm trying to understand? What modernity am I too old to grasp? It's true, they get on with things. Some things. But in other regards they're clueless, not even aware that there are things to be got on with.
Time moves differently when you're swimming in it.
I think twice before popping into a shop just to pick up the cocktail tomatoes that will satisfy a craving (and then I don't do it, because I shouldn't do groceries for another week, I'll manage without). Elsewhere, I line up and wait and sanitize before I'm allowed to ask for batteries. Yet I can have exotic mango salads delivered in time for lunch. How is it that I can refurnish by balcony on a whim, but I cannot stock up on household paper products? A strange blend of excess and shortage. How difficult it is to understand what it is I need, and what I want.
My government has exceeded the pace of bureaucracy to affect change, hopefully lasting change. Something approaching a universal basic income. Recognition of the the fact that no one should ever go without food or shelter. Sick leave.
But the mood outside is chaotic. Everybody is living in their own world, some oblivious, some nothing-left-to-lose reckless, some simply testing the theory of their immortality. (The fearful are staying home.)
I am loving Gnomon. It's big and surprising, rich with allusion, playful. I imagine it as a video game through which I'm leveling up. (I'm more than 200 pages in, almost a third of the way through.) I needed this book, I needed it now.
It's awakening a sense of creativity within me, how I use words, how I look at art, how I relate to technology, where I fit in society, how I want to shape my life.
Very unexpectedly, this book is strengthening my relationship to my work and my workplace, at times echoing the mission statement and values of the company I work for. When it talks about reshaping the world and taking on hard problems — not only technical ones but challenges with a moral component — it clarifies for me what a very cool company I work for, with an admirable ethos, valuing what everyone has to contribute — everyone's perspective informs the whole. We just do things.
It makes me want to do things again.