Friday 10 July 2015

Class and Innovations II

In Agatha Christie's The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side Miss Marple and Miss Hartnell face Progress in their different ways: “Nothing was what it had been. You could blame the war (both the wars) or the younger generation, or women going out to work, or the atom bomb, or just the Government—but what one really meant was the simple fact that one was growing old... Miss Hartnell’s house was still there, and also Miss Hartnell, fighting progress to the last gasp... The fishmonger was unrecognizable with new super windows behind which the refrigerated fish gleamed... Where Mr Toms had once had his basket shop stood a glittering new supermarket—anathema to the elderly ladies of St Mary Mead. ‘Packets of things one’s never even heard of,’ exclaimed Miss Hartnell. ‘All these great packets of breakfast cereal instead of cooking a child a proper breakfast of bacon and eggs. And you’re expected to take a basket yourself and go round looking for things.”

And where once there were fields, they’ve built a Development of new houses, harbouring a new kind of family. Cherry “was one of the detachment of young wives who shopped at the supermarket and wheeled prams about the quiet streets of St Mary Mead. They were all smart and well turned out. Their hair was crisp and curled.”

In the Development itself, the very new buildings look like dolls’ houses: “The people, too, looked unreal. The trousered young women, the rather sinister-looking young men and boys, the exuberant bosoms of the fifteen-year-old girls. Miss Marple couldn’t help thinking that it all looked terribly depraved.”

If Miss Marple thinks women in trousers and uplift bras are depraved, what would she have made of a Roman orgy? The bosoms are probably the result of better nutrition. In Miss M’s young day 15-year-old girls would have worn concealing box-pleated gym tunics. And in the 60s Upwards and Weybridges whinged about self-service as much as they now moan about “unexpected items in the bagging area”.

Upwards gibbered that biological washing powder would digest them, microwave ovens would cook them, and they’d be bitten by rabid foxes immigrating through the channel tunnel. None of these disasters happened, but they fail to draw conclusions, and invent a scare story for the next innovation.


The Upward view of technology is uneasy and opinionated. They seize on something to pontificate about.

WikiLeaks, he says, is the extension of a Facebook culture that reflects our prurient appetites for status updates and a constant drip of minutiae… (Interview with John Malkovich, Independent)

The internet has become a “Petri dish of opinion inflation, breeding commentary like bacteria”. (Stephen Randall, LATimes Jan 2011)

But there’s another Upward tribe (possibly more common in the States) who seize onto every innovation and run their whole lives through smartphones, wifi, cable TV (not to mention cars full of gadgets), but eat artisanal food off slate slabs.

And you can get a hemp cover for your ipod printed with a tree of life… and a beechwood mouse. One of the reasons Upwards shrank from technology was the, well, hitech look of the gadgets. They’re so shiny and plasticky! And everybody's is the same! They very quickly got over it and the gadgets live quite happily alongside the retro printed linen and genuinely distressed recycled industrial furniture. The gadgets enable everything from knowing where you are to identifying ladybirds – but where is our pavement cleaning robot?

Upwards are still “succumbing” or “giving in” to Facebook, rather than just signing up, like everybody else.

Some elderly Upwards are still slightly embarrassed about having an email account, and give themselves an arch address.

Upwards would have blogs but they can only say the word in quotation marks. And now they like to say that blogging is so over. They hate the idea of other people (for other read "ordinary") telling the world about their lives, and they loathed it when in the early days of the internet people got their own web pages and put up their holiday snaps. Weybridges used to say that an Englishman’s home is his castle, and Teales prided themselves on “keeping themselves to themselves” – code for not mixing with people who might be less good class. (Novelist Ivy Compton Burnett’s parents wouldn’t let their children meet anybody at all because nobody was quite good enough.)

Twitter is now part of life, but the middle classes are still distancing themselves from it while using it.

The only telephone in the house [hung] on the wall of the silver-cleaning room beside the knife-polishing drum. (Nicky Haslam, Redeeming Features)

When telephone answering machines came in in the 80s, Upward actors made a few bob recording messages for their friends in the voice of Laurence Olivier, Boris Karloff etc. There was a bit of foot-dragging and refusal to leave messages. (“I thought it was you and it was that terrible machine!”) But people got used to them. Now Upwards remark with some puzzlement that nobody has wacky ringtones any more, they just use the default.

People often phone Samantha Upward and can’t get through because her battery has run down and the phone is charging. “I tried to phone you, but I just got a funny noise!” “The battery ran down. The phone was charging.” Other party acts puzzled, and Sam is puzzled that they’re puzzled. The darned battery keeps running down – doesn’t everybody’s? She also goes on holiday without her phone charger or Kindle charger, and when the batteries run down, that’s it. Jen Teale plugs her phone into the charger every night, and always takes her chargers on holiday. She’s making herself a charger bag – a bit like a hanging shoe-bag, with the device names embroidered on the pockets. It’s quilted, and incorporates a lot of velcro and binding. Next year, she’ll go on Dragon’s Den and get funding to manufacture them. All she needs is a whimsical name! (The Chargeit!?)

The English treated this novelty with the grave suspicion due to anything foreign: ‘We need no little forks to make hay with our mouths, to throw our food into them,’ complained Nicholas Breton in 1618. (If Walls Could Talk: An intimate history of the home, Lucy Worsley)

The reservations of my grandmother and her friends [about duvets]: ‘Isn’t it heavy? Isn’t it hot?’. (If Walls Could Talk: An intimate history of the home, Lucy Worsley)

Old BBC radio instructions advised turning off all the lights so that you could “see the pictures better”. (BBC yearbook 1940)
Make sure that your set is working properly before you settle down to listen. (So the first few minutes of the programme aren’t obliterated by tuning noises.)
Choose your programmes as carefully as you choose which theatre to go to. (Don’t just “have it on”.)
You can’t get the best out of a programme if your mind is wandering, or if you are playing bridge or reading... If you only listen with half an ear you haven’t a quarter of a right to criticise... Give the wireless a rest now and then.

They are telling people to treat radio like a middle-class entertainment (theatre) rather than a working-class one (cinema, music hall, melodrama – audiences talked and smoked all through). It sounds like the current “We, the Smugs, took a holiday from all devices!”

Why do we have this obsession with removing technology from our lives? So long as children form healthy relationships, get a solid education and aren't unaware of the outside world, it makes no difference how they spend their leisure time. We used to go to the phonebox all evening to call friends, or used the landline with the wire stretching up the hall to our room. So why not email, IM and Face Time now? It's still communication, it's still forming relationships. There's no need to ban "screens". Simply suggest other activities more frequently. Let's go to the park? The zoo? A museum? Play a board game? (Robert Greenberg Borehamwood, Hertfordshire Guardian 2013-06-22)

And what do "we" think about driverless cars?
But from an emotional and romantic perspective it is a dispiriting prospect: the driverless car belongs in our sexting, vaping, auto-tuned age. There is a smack of fat-free yoghurt and elastic waistband about it, something hopelessly, passionlessly convenient, something so joyless, wipe-clean and flat.”(Laura Barton in The Guardian 2014-08-05)

"New Medium Terror" has begun as ppl callin 4 3dPrinting 2 b regulated. (AdamNathanielFurman ‏@Furmadamadam)

More here.

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