Where there's a Willesden there's a way

Monday, January 03, 2005

People I've met today...

I'm not feeling too great; my sinuses feel like they're going to pop through my eyes and all I want to do is sleep. But before I surrender to it, I decided to take a walk.

The Kings Langley stretch of the Grand Union Canal is home to vast stocks of trout, a huge variety of wildlife, the faded remnants of our industrial past, and my mate Nick the Unabomber.

There's quite a few Unabombers in the Hertfordshire stretch of the canal, but Nick's the friendliest. On the other occasions I've met him he's been George. And this time James. And he's never called himself an Unabomber, but you can always tell.

Unabombers are drawn to the canal by its permanance. Everything consists of wood, stone and iron, you can travel miles without crossing a road, and the only televisions nearby float soundlessly past. Nick the Unabomber can be found next to his small battered boat, chopping wood, cultivating a wild beard and profoundly regretting the 20th Century. Nick tells me that apart from government spy satellites and "men in planes", no-one's taken his picture in twenty years.

"Are you carrying one of them mobile phones?", he asked me as a form of introduction. "No", I lied, sending out thoughts to everyone I know not to text me for a few minutes.

"Good", he said, extending a finger, "because I'll tell you summat." He fixed one eye on me. "Them things are gonna kill us." I nodded neutrally.

"You see, you've got your radiation, out there." He waved his hands around, "and you've got yourself, you know, in 'ere." He was tapping the side of his head a little more than is healthy, so I nodded a little more. "And if it's all out there, it ain't in 'ere. And if it ain't in 'ere, you ain't 'uman no more."

I think I was following him, so I nodded again to prove it. He held his hand to his ear before pointing over his shoulder. "And if it's going from here to there, it's gotta go through here." He tapped his head again. "And that's gonna mess up your thoughts and all sorts."

The light was fading both in the sky and in Nick the Unabomber's eyes, so I made quite a few excuses and left. He'd given me a lot to think about on the way home.

I've had a lot of run-ins with technology lately. Unreliable phones, inexplicable Windows errors, and a frighteningly bad new computer system being introduced at work. Information Technology can be annoying, yes, frustrating, yes. Alienating? Yes, especially if you can't work it. But dehumanising? For me it's the opposite, as I seem to use it solely for texting, emailing and blogging, which are all quite human activities.

Unhealthy? Admittedly we're all getting fat, and the jury's still out on the radiation thing for now.

I think he'd be onto something with cars though. We all know the effects they have on communities and cars, but I really didn't like to mention it.

Of course, no-one's actually saying Nick the Unabomber is directly responsible for any acts of terrorism. But as technology becomes more alienating and, well, more annoying, so shrinks the line which seperates the alienated from exclusion and even a brutal and random campaign of randomly lashing out at progress through mailbombs.

I doubt Nick will be the first though.


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