Change is the only constant - a blog, in 1000 Words or Less
I grew up with three TV channels; cable vision wasn’t an option where I lived. Each channel “tuned in” with various levels of snow and static, which made watching The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday or Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday, a challenge. A visit with my grandparents was always enjoyable (for all the obvious grandparental reasons), but also because they had cable and therefore more channels than I imagined possible. Fast forward a few decades and new streaming services seem to pop up monthly, giving us HD content and quantity that was previously inconceivable. With so many choices and a wallet too skinny to purchase them all, it’s difficult to know where to start…Amazon Prime, Netflix, Crave, Hulu, Apple, Disney…
I settled on Prime largely by accident when I placed an order for merchandise on Amazon and absent mindedly clicked a banner that said, “Free Shipping.” That quickly, I became a Prime member. All I had to do, if I didn’t want the service, was cancel the subscription within a set period of time, which I forgot to do, of course. “Free” shipping actually costs about $80 a year and supposedly includes overnight delivery, which hasn't happened lately, but for eighty bucks, the television content is excellent and worth the price.
As a brief aside, I realize many people see Amazon and Jeff Bezos in much the same way as they see hell and the devil…
…especially nowadays when supporting small local business is critically important, if we don’t want them papering over their windows and locking their doors forever. I’m not among the Bezos haters. He started selling books online because they were easy to package and ship, eventually turning Amazon into the world’s biggest internet-based company, in terms of revenue. I don’t see anything wrong with that. I wish I’d come up with an idea that made me a gazillion dollars. On the other hand, if you want to discuss the kind of company Amazon is in terms of ethics, environmental concerns, employee rights, etcetera, that might be a different conversation.
Anyway, I support local business as much as possible, until I can’t anymore. Not long ago I needed shoe laces. Mundane I know, but I needed them because I couldn’t get them in the little town in which I live and Oxfords don’t work as flip-flops. I wasn’t about to drive thirty minutes south to Walmart or thirty minutes north to the mall, in hopes of finding the right colour and size. Hello Amazon. Whether you like the company or not, there’s no getting around how it changed both the way we shop and…
…I’ve taken a long road to go a short distance…
…the way we watch television. One of the programs I recently watched on Prime was The Expanse, science fiction that takes place centuries in the future, after a brilliant scientist invents something called an Epstein drive. In the program / novels, the Epstein drive made incredibly fast space travel possible, changing everything about the way humanity lived, ultimately resulting in the colonization of Mars and the surrounding solar system. The Expanse is enjoyable on its face. It’s also layered and complicated and smart enough to make a person question politics, discrimination and the capability of mankind. It made me wonder: what in my lifetime compares to the Epstein drive? What has happened in my generation that changed the way we live in previously unimaginable ways, something that was practically impossible to envision but has become so common place it’s effectively invisible now that it’s here?
I was in high school the first time I heard the word, “modem.” A friend phoned, quite excited about the gift his parents gave him for his birthday. I naturally wanted to know what a modem was and what purpose it served. He explained that it was a device that connected computers together, sometimes across great distances. It allowed the computers to share information via the telephone lines. I was nowhere near as impressed or excited as he was, which might partially explain why I’m not as wealthy as Bezos. I couldn’t see the purpose or appreciate the value. I lost interest and asked him if he’d taped the latest episode of Miami Vice. He lived in town and had cable vision. Today the internet is so entwined in our lives that it would be quite impossible for the world to operate without the connectivity of computers over great distances.
A couple of years ago, I visited the 9/11 memorial in New York City. The day I visited, a group of young people were also visiting, I assume on a school field trip. After some quick mental math, I realized these pre-teens weren’t yet alive on a day I remember with perfect clarity. Many of the visiting adults had moist eyes and sniffly noses. Ladies clutched Kleenex and men mumbled about their allergies; it’s that kind of place. I can’t recommend a visit strongly enough. The pre-teens acted the way all young people act when forced to visit a museum or memorial site—some of them were mildly interested, the rest were happy they weren’t imprisoned in a classroom that day.
The pre-teens will never fully understand the magnitude of the changes that day wrought upon us because they didn’t know the world before it happened and because the emotional component doesn’t exist for them. For the rest of us, the emotional component will always exist and it helps us remember things that are ingrained now but didn’t exist before that tragic day. Spread over the last twenty years, the list of changes is long and significant, but I don’t think anything on it represents something as impactful as the internet, the Epstein drive of our time.
Today, we’re living in another similarly seminal moment. Covid is already changing the way in which the world turns. It’s too soon to see exactly how big or how lasting these changes will eventually become, although it's safe to say much of what we’re dealing with today won’t disappear any time soon. We'll never go back to "normal." Whatever that was, is gone. We’ll all be wearing face coverings for another couple of years. Sanitation stations in public places are here to stay. Vaccine passports will become a permanent part of international travel, as will rapid Covid tests at borders. Anti-Chinese sentiment will exist for years, in much the same way as anti-Muslim sentiment existed after 9/11. Work-from-home jobs will be a trend that becomes more prevalent with time, as companies realize a cost savings and see the benefits of a happier workforce. There’ll be other changes, probably more significant, and I wonder…
…will anything about these Covid times be as fundamentally life altering as the internet, or will all the changes we’re seeing today add up with time and become ubiquitous, like they did after 9/11?
I don’t know the answer, any more than I did in 1984 when I failed to recognize the importance of a modem. In my defence, I doubt most people back then foresaw the power and impact of the internet, any more than an individual in 1886 understood how the invention of the automobile would change transportation,
or recognized the manner and speed in which entertainment would change in 1928 with the introduction of the first television,
or, saw the seeds of globalization sprout in 1903 with the first powered flight.
As the expression goes, change is the only constant in life. Recognizing what is consequential can be tricky but as we work through this Covid nonsense, I’m going to pay attention and hopefully have bragging rights in a few years when I say, “I saw that coming!” In the meantime, I’m going to turn on Prime and thumb through seemingly endless content in hopes of finding something watchable I can stream over the internet...my parents wouldn't understand a word of that statement. The world has come a long way from three snowy channels anyone could watch for free, if the rabbit-ear antenna was adjusted just right.