Stranded in the 21st century

My friend Greg told me about a curious technology-related problem he had last week. While reading a climbing magazine, it occurred to him that it would be fun to watch the old Clint Eastwood film The Eiger Sanction.

Now let’s turn back the clock a few years. You can smoke in bars. The village blacksmith is nearby in case your horse throws a shoe. And (here is the important part) there’s a Blockbuster video store on every corner. In this sepia-toned world, Greg would run to the nearest Blockbuster and rent his movie. Problem solved. But since the passing of that era, here’s what happened. Greg started using Netflix. No more trips to the video store. Hooray! But after a time, he decided he didn’t like the DVD-by-mail option (too slow) or the stream-by-net option (not enough selection). So he stopped using Netflix. But while he was trying Netflix, so was Everybody Else. The world turned its back, and poof! The cigarette machines, the payphones, the blacksmiths, the Blockbusters, they all vanished.

Fast forward to the present, and Greg can’t figure out how to rent a movie. He’s stranded in the modern age, dangling like Clint between the departed past and a future that’s not quite here.


Have you had an experience like this?

I did a few years ago when my cell phone died and I really needed to make a phone call. Have you ever looked for a working payphone? If you walk into a liquor store and ask where the nearest payphone is, you will be treated as if you just rolled in a cat box.

Greg’s tale of First World woe doesn’t stop with Clint. In addition to being a talented software developer, Greg is also a talented musician (who just released a new album). His band performed live on the radio last week (WICN). Before the show, his proud wife texted the news to a bunch of friends. Several replied with words to this effect: “I can’t find a radio in my house! What should I do?” She may as well have been telling them to saddle up the old gray mare.

Now I know, and Greg knows, that there are ways to listen to the radio over the net. But some people don’t. Some of those folks sat in their cold cars because that’s the only radio they could find. It’s a neat illustration of what we might call “kicking away the ladder.” That awkward moment when you can’t quite touch the past or the future. And it may explain why Mad Men is so popular. The men were men, the women were women, and the telephones were massive Western Electric 500s made from shatter-proof plastic and mastodon bones.

By God, I need a bourbon. They still make that, right?

2 thoughts on “Stranded in the 21st century”

  1. Great post!
    In our family, we like to play pay phone scavenger hunt. When you see one, you call someone else in the family from it and say “Guess what – I’m calling you from a pay phone”. We actually do this.

    Hmm – it’s a lot funnier than this description makes it sound.

  2. great post, Ned. well-written and true. I myself have given this phenomenon some thought, and you’ve encapsulated it well.

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