the fo­rum

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Rick Mor­ton

My great-grand­fa­ther was a man so im­pressed with his time he gave all of his chil­dren, boy and girl, the mid­dle name Vil­liers af­ter the en­gine that be­came fa­mous from 1912. He was born not long af­ter the In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion and took a some­what mech­a­nis­tic ap­proach to the world; to work, pro­cre­ation, the very con­cept of love. Never mind the fact the Ti­tanic sank in the same year his beloved en­gine was de­vel­oped, man and ma­chine were one and to­gether they would dom­i­nate the world.

His comfort with this ar­range­ment was, I sus­pect, due to the fact you could not take home an in­dus­trial loom and check your emails on it be­fore bed. A cot­ton gin could not plan your so­cial life via in­tru­sive cal­en­dar up­dates.

Sure, we lost more chil­dren down chim­neys than we might be com­fort­able with, and the ma­chines were gov­erned by no safety leg­is­la­tion, but although they could take an arm or leg, they could never take your mind.

A man with the sin­gu­lar lack of imag­i­na­tion re­quired to name all of his prog­eny af­ter an early 20th-cen­tury en­gi­neer­ing mar­vel would not travel well in the present day.

The only things that ma­chines, com­put­ers re­ally, mass-man­u­fac­ture for me these days are op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­cuse my­self from events so vo­lu­mi­nous and pre­pos­ter­ous as to re­quire ex­pla­na­tions of a sim­i­lar or­der.

“I’m sorry I can’t make it,” I text a friend, ex­plain­ing that how­ever much I would en­joy the ve­gan shoe-mak­ing class (I ab­so­lutely wouldn’t) I couldn’t pos­si­bly get there on time on ac­count of the fam­ily of bush an­i­mals that has sud­denly come into my care.

The mod­ern world has pre­cip­i­tated the birth of mod­ern anx­i­ety. There is more of it than ever be­fore, and we are in need of a new suite of sup­port groups. Sup­port groups for the 21st cen­tury. Sup­port groups that scream “yes the world has be­come a scarier place since the in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion of weav­ing but please don’t take it out on the spin­ning jenny, save your vi­o­lent pas­sions for DARPA or who­ever it was that re­ally in­vented the in­ter­net”.

It’s a bit of a long slo­gan, I’ll grant, but the thrust of it is there.

There will be groups for peo­ple who have lost chil­dren dur­ing the hys­te­ria of try­ing to wire a home-en­ter­tain­ment sys­tem. A par­ent should never bury their child, par­tic­u­larly not af­ter send­ing them around the back of a flatscreen tele­vi­sion to plug in an HDMI ca­ble.

There will be body-im­age work­shops for peo­ple’s dogs, es­pe­cially dachshunds, sparked by the sud­den re­al­i­sa­tion your sausage dog looks re­mark­ably like the cylin­ders of pro­cessed meat you’ve been feed­ing it.

There will be a sup­port group for the French man who jumped in­no­cently in his Re­nault La­guna to go to the shops and ended up stuck in his car as it travelled at 200km/h, in­ca­pable of be­ing stopped, to­wards Bel­gium.

In this can­tan­ker­ous cen­tury, there will be get-to­geth­ers for those who did not care loudly enough when loud peo­ple de­manded it.

There will con­tinue to be sup­port groups for peo­ple afraid of spi­ders, as is just and right. A plan will be hatched to turn spi­ders into roam- ing WiFi hot­pots, forc­ing us to choose be­tween our ha­tred of arach­nids and our need to be con­nected. This will teach us, too, about the im­per­ma­nence of liv­ing things when the WiFi sig­nal drops out, pre­sum­ably be­cause a hunts­man hotspot has died and blown away in the wind.

Ac­cord­ingly, there will be a sup­port group to help deal with the pe­cu­liar con­tours of this grief.

I make few pe­ti­tions for groups of my own, though it would be nice to at­tend a class whose sole aim is to soothe my guilt about all the peo­ple who wished me happy birth­day on Face­book for whom I never re­turned the cour­tesy.

The prob­lem with long­ing for the “sim­pler” times of my great-grand­fa­ther’s era — when men were men and Vil­liers mo­tor en­gines were suit­able in­spi­ra­tion for the births reg­istry — is that one is re­quired, too, to take small­pox and po­lio as fel­low trav­ellers. It’s like go­ing back­pack­ing in Europe but hav­ing to do it with a preda­tory big cat, or your high-school mate Tom, at your side. It’s a bit much, re­ally.

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