The Atavist’s Guide to Navigating the Future

19 thoughts on “The Atavist’s Guide to Navigating the Future”

  1. Johnny, That antenna tower that you have in a photo was originally built for radio (AM &FM) and TV around 1970. It may have been retrofitted for cell phones later.
    I have had a many a techno-glitch with telephones. Before 1980 you signed up with whatever phone company had the monopoly in the area. If there was no phone they would install one when they got around to it. When the Bell System was broken up, jacks were installed and the company owned phones were taken away or you could rent them for a while.
    You had to go to a store and buy a phone and cordless phones were the new tech. Where I lived the phone would fail to work every few months. I would call the repair service from somewhere else, usually twice, and the phone would work again. This went on for some years. Since I was at work when the repair person came by I did not get any info on what the problem was. One day I walked by part of the triplex and saw why the phone kept quitting. When the line from the pole had been routed to my apartment some time was saved by going around the side of the building after the isolator. Then the line went into the crawl space and connected to the jacks inside. Problem was they did not keep the line against the wall and when the yard maintenance guys came by they would sometimes trim the hedge and sometimes the phone line. I rerouted the line through the wall into a kitchen cabinet, down through the floor, and into the crawl space.
    The phone never failed in the 15 or so years after that.
    After I moved to the semi-rural area that I am at now it was more like being at the far end of everything utility. The phone would get so much static that callers could not be understood or it would quit completely. Eventually I was there one time when the repair tech was fixing things. This was still the time when The Phone Company would maintain the line all the way to your house and into the wall jacks. I asked him why the phone was failing so often (no hedge trimmers involved). He told me that the trunk line into the area had about 100 connections and that there were about 50 subscribers. Squirrels and other rodents were chewing the lines so he and his co-workers had to come out about once a month and switch the lines to ones that worked.
    He said that eventually they would run out of lines and have to run new stuff. I don’t think that ever happened before the cell phone came along and people started cancelling their “land lines”. I went through the steps others have outlined, cable phone service (when cable was run into the area in 2008) and finally stopped the “land line” after I had got a sorta-smart cell phone.
    I am usually 5-10 years late to the tech fashion races.
    One thought is that cable and internet (VOIP) phones will not work if there is an electricity failure. You need to have a battery back up to run the phone modem. The old tech “land line” systems have their own separate power and generators. They would usually function in troubled times unless the lines were severed by falling trees or similar destruction.

    1. That is why I insisted the installer put a backup battery into my internet gateway so the phones (albeit nothing else) would still operate. And it worked as advertised during an outage, just like the old landline.

  2. The Mandibles is a great novel! Which begs the question, how does your friend defend his five mortgage free homes when we default on Treasury bills and return to the gold standard? When there is no infrastructure to support streaming services, the walking dead will machete each other over a box of VHS tapes from the landfill.

  3. “Silicon Valley is famous for repacking old ideas, then pretending they invented something new. ”
    This seems like the common complaint here, but not sure I agree, so I’m going to push back a bit:

    VHS tapes required endless amounts of time to rewind, and their lifespan was short. VHS players ate tape, destroying them. And tracking. Remember constantly adjusting the tracking? Nobody watched movies while on the go – but cassettes or CDs? Remember the giant case you used to have to carry to listen to more than 1 album on long trips? That was a real problem that needed to be solved.

    Also, your amigo has a pretty good collection of generic movies, but for the more obscure stuff on VHS, they invented a solid version of copy protection that cannot be defeated without buying all sorts of specialized equipment -which means that many VHS tapes that weren’t popular enough to be digitized are gone forever. Or at least until an enterprising chap uploads a blurry copy to YouTube.

    The ‘novel’ aspect of modern internet home delivery is that they deliver in 1-3 days, not 3 weeks. That’s why catalogue ordering declined and stores rose before internet area. Ordering stuff from a catalogue sucked, though the catalogues themselves were super cool. Amazon also saved the postal service. Remember when they were considering cutting back the number of days the mail was delivered?

    The ‘taxi medallions’ created a seriously limited supply of actual cars on the streets (medallions in NYC are approximately $500k and up) such that many couldn’t get taxis and there were no taxis in suburbs. That’s not the case anymore. I can now get a taxi at nearly any hour of the night from anywhere to anywhere.

    Uber/Lyft also made it perfectly fine to park a taxi in a upper-middle class neighborhood in SoCal. I’m sure you’ve seen that on your travels.

    AirB&B arose mostly because the construction of hotels was crushed by the Great Recession temporarily & zoning roughly permanently. Jacksonville has more hotel rooms than NYC. Life finds a way.

  4. It interesting that we’ve got one vector heading towards bigger big boxes, automation, self-driving, drone delivery, etc. While another vector is going the opposite direction – buy local, farmers markets, shared tables at the beer garden, etc. The middle is eroding: toys r us, sears, malls, etc.

    Somewhere things flipped, too. In the 80s, the old townies would rip on national chains while they chain smoked at the local diner. Now, they rip on localism while chain smoking on patio of Buffalo Wild Wings overlooking the parking lot.

  5. Johnny, I share with you that you can take advantage of technology, for many things, but for others it is better to trust in the “non-technological”. I work in a small carpentry shop and we use a lot of mobile phone, calls, messaging, email, etc. recently the mobile collapsed and had to be replaced, as it was only that day was “isolated” since the fixed line as practically no longer used had the device in disuse. At home we handle ourselves in another way, we use technology but we also do preserves, we have a wood-fired oven where on weekends we make bread, pizzas and other things, it works practically without “expenses” cuts that are left over from carpentry, branches, etc, it will not be cool, but if something happens we can continue working …

  6. I had an old fashioned landline that regularly crapped out (especially during rain), sometimes for days. Had to change to a VoIP/internet gateway when DSL was discontinued, probably to get rid of the copper lines. Which oddly enough, was more reliable (by using fiber optic instead) and faster. Plus the pseudo-landline came with nice features like better audio quality, caller ID, free long distance, etc., that cost extra on the old POTS line. Cable TV (using another provider) on the other hand, used to drop out so much that movies sometimes became unwatchable. I almost cancelled, but the problem eventually disappeared.

    Silicon Valley is famous for repacking old ideas, then pretending they invented something new. Steve Jobs wasn’t the only one emitting a reality distortion field.

    1. As fiction it’s an enjoyable thought provoking read. I like Lionel Shriver’s – not because she’s warm and fuzzy, but because she’s a bit harsh at times. As for her vision of the future, she says it herself in the text.“ Plots set in the future are about what people fear in the present. They’re not about the future at all,”

  7. We have a radio in our kitchen to play CBC, but it is also nice to listen to music or podcasts off our phones.

    So, for various technical reasons I ended up checking out a Bluetooth speaker with FM radio at our local drugstore.

    The sound was terrible, and the clerk suggested I buy a Bluetooth speaker with good sound, and simply stream the radio over my phone.

    So, radio, which has been freely gathered from the airwaves for a very long time, is now better streamed over wires to your house, then made airborne again by your wifi, to be collected a few feet away by your phone?

    Total cost for services, $130 per month.

    And people seem to think this makes sense.

  8. The difference between that and Hyrecar/Uber is extraordinarily subtle. What appears like a radical transformation in technology, the economy, and culture quickly reverts to a previous form with new names and fresh participants.

    C’mon, Johnny, you know better than that – it’s very different. The drivers make a lot less and have almost no legal protections. Progress, corporate style!

  9. My partner lives in an off-grid cabin on the nearest mountain, and is a short wave radio buff, belonging to the local ham radio club. Every few months or so this club has a training day with the police and State Emergency Service. That is, the club train the police and the SES. Not only is short wave radio the only way to communicate in some of Tasmania’s more inaccessible wilderness, it is also going to be the only reliable way to communicate if/when the lights go out. And it all hangs on a bunch of unfashionable nerds who meet in an old Scout hut..

  10. A few years ago I made a miscalculation in thinking that the great video rental place we had here in Portland, Maine was going to be around for a while. I culled a great many of my dvd and vhs tapes thinking I could just rent them. Not so: the guy retired and donated his collection to the public library. True, they are still available but they are not conveniently so and library dvds always skip! Now I’m back to acquiring dvds (for free) from the swap shop at our “transfer station” or very cheaply from the brick and mortar video, book, comic shop. The dilemma again is to figure out how to store them for easy access in the small house we live in. And of course, my 25 year old VCR finally died and I’ve had to get another one. It lasted better than the dvd player, which lasted only about 8 years. More e-waste that we hope will be recycled.

    Also, after having another printer/scanner/copier/waffle press die I’m quite convinced that the notion of printing photos at home is a boondoggle. We want photos for albums and hanging on our walls. But, even with quality paper the ones printed at home don’t age well. From now on we’re going to bring a thumb drive to the last remaining photo shop to print them off. Less wear and tear on the equipment when you want to be a big batch of them!

  11. I dunno. I love that technology has allowed me to ditch so much physical clutter (address books, CD players, paper books, photo albums, etc.) That wall of VHS tapes screams “hoarder” to me. If the grid actually goes down, are you really gonna watch My Cousin Vinny? “Frugality” can also be a cover for hoarding useless junk that has negative ROI once you take your own time and storage space into account. Sure, it’s “free” but actually it’s not.

    I do see the case for owning physical copies of items of great quality, beauty or utility. A work of art. A home repair handbook. A minimal set of tools. Skills and relationships are of course of great value at any time.

    1. “Hoarder” has become one of those terms that’s tossed around to dismiss anyone who does anything weird. I have at least a year’s worth of food stored in my one bedroom apartment and you wouldn’t know it by looking around. If you were to walk around my friend’s house you would see a fairly spartan arrangement with very few bits of furniture or clutter. The VHS tapes are in a closet in a back bedroom. You know what I see in most homes? Nothing of any real utility if the occupants were unemployed for a year, or if the power failed, or if there was an earthquake or other disruption. Shrug. One way or another we’ll all sort things out in our own ways. Did you miss the part about a blue collar income and five mortgage free homes?

      1. The assets some working class, frugal people can accumulate can be astonishing. I remember a friend who was a loan broker once telling me that he (a regular old white guy) had a number of Chinese clients; many were immigrants with very low level jobs, but who could, nonetheless, produce a pretty impressive financial statement when it came to purchasing yet another piece of property. The Mexican lady who’s been cleaning our house for 20 years has two houses on the Peninsula and three college educated, professional kids. Hard work, living within your means, and a bit of investing, and damn if it can’t put you in a pretty comfortable position after a couple of decades.

  12. Thanks for plugging one of my favorite authors, Paolo Bacigalupi. His young-adult fiction is good, too.

    We also tried to hold on to our landline. Anyone who’s seen “The Day After Tomorrow” knows why. :^) But our line also developed problems, and the cost to fix it seemed prohibitive, so we now have only cellphones.

    1. Most places that are hard-wired for cable TV can also get “landline” phone service that way.

      The downside, of course, is having to deal with “customer service” from Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, Charter, etc.

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