Fast lane to tears..

When I got back from travelling, one of my most immediate goals was to buy a new bike. But not an average bike and certainly not a 125cc. I dreamed of my future bike while riding through a sand storm on the way to Lima in Peru (the bike had slowed to walking pace, and I couldn’t see more than 100 metres ahead).  At this time I imagined that my next ride was going to be the largest cc moto I could afford,  something with about ten times the power of the 125cc.

So with what little money that I had when I returned, I went out and bought a BMW 1150 RT,  an older model with a lot of kilometres on the clock, but still, a beautiful ride, something like driving a luxury car.  I did a bunch of country rides and a long ride to Sydney with my friend David on the back, but the love affair with the BMW was to be short lived, as it turned out to be a Charleton and a one-trick pony.

BMW RT 1150 RT

 

In reflection, I’m am not sure what I was thinking, buying a BMW whale, it was a trophy bike for some other game. It was impossible to maintain, difficult to get between the fat traffic, and tricky to park on the footpath without maiming children.  What finally ended the affair was a mere flat battery. Replacing the battery required taking the fairing and petrol tank off, a task that took me half a day, and even then, the battery cost as much as a Llama.

So after three months, the BMW was sold for a considerable loss, and I purchased a bullet proof Suzuki GS 500, the third one I have owned, the most reliable, robust, and minimalist bike around.  I spent three years riding a GS 500 around London and I have owned two in Melbourne. I ride it almost every day, and it is socially flexible, unlike the BMW that was stuck in a fast lane to tears.

Camping in Natimuk, Victoria, Australia

Sydney to London via ex-posite bike!

This is such a wonderful story, incredibly inspirational.  But when do you stop?

“And I just don’t think as humans we’re programmed to reach a point where we’re happy with our lot. We always want more. And so I suppose at the end of the trip I realised it hadn’t really achieved anything and how I was still in the same mess as when I set off”

The Stranger..

Returning home to a semblance of normality from a journey that rattles one’s bones takes very a long time indeed.  In fact, I was in a Fitzroy bar the other night and a nice young chap, who claimed to be an expert on these things, suggested that it would take two years!  It has been a year and a half since I got off my cherished 125cc moto, so I am almost ‘there’ I suppose, whatever ‘there’ means.

The main problem with integrating back into Modernista society after a monumental break is that one becomes a messenger, an outsider, an intruder and a stranger. One’s identity changes greatly through the serious engagement with the world and people find it difficult to accept your new hard-won identity as you do theirs.  Many people not only fear the world and its people but they also fear those who have had the courage to engage with it on their own terms.

Whilst walking to a cafe for lunch the other day, waiting for the autocratic pedestrian crossing to signal approval, I overheard a rotund, flustered man mumbling about an altercation with a colleague over an office tea-bag. I thought to myself, ‘why does this man exist?’ ‘I wish he would disobey the authority of the pedestrian crossing and suffer at the hands of Modernism’.

It has been a very tough year and a half and along with many people, my global soul has taken a beating.  There are a lot of people out there with weak identities who demonise others and aggressively cling to the most reductive and imaginary things at the expense of others.  I hope that I haven’t been the beneficiary of a golden age of independent travel and from here on in it is “us and them over and over and over again”.

The art of traveling with technology (or not)

The use of social software while traveling can either enhance travel or diminish it, depending on the meaning and frequency of the messages. It has become super-easy to send messages to friends or family from almost anywhere in the world, but this shouldn’t be similar to sending an everyday message from a café or bar close to where you live. Exploring the world independently is a major undertaking that comes with a whole set of new perspectives, challenges, and responsibilities. It is important to communicate these in a meaningful way and be considerate of your audience who may not understand the context in which you are writing.

Australian Modernism on the move! Collins St, 5p.m. 1955, John BRACK Australian Modernism on the move! Collins St, 5p.m. 1955, John BRACK

The first thing to consider is the frequency of your messages. Yes, it is important to stay in touch with people when you are away, but this shouldn’t be too regular, maybe every week or two is enough, depending on the length and nature of the journey. If you post messages too often, your audience becomes accustomed to it, demanding more of your time and focus when you could be doing much better things. Frequent, bumptious messages from far-away places may also alienate your audience in an online medium with many competing, everyday concerns (and they may ditch you, then you will really be off the grid).

Posting undue, expeditious messages also means you have less time to think about and craft your message, so you are more likely to send shallow self-indulgent snaps of you sitting in a hammock or swimming on a palm-tree-infested beach as though every country of the world, other than your own, only exists for the narrowest of Euro-centric pursuits (in Australia in the 1970s this was called the ‘ocker fantasy’ and we have a whole genre of films of Aussie blokes on beaches in Queensland chasing blonde, scantily clad girls, so if this is your idea of the world, it has been done before so no need to broadcast it again).

Another consideration is the significance of the message. If you only blog or publish a set of photos ever week or two you have time to choose the most significant things you did in this period and reflect upon and write about them. Did you learn anything new; about the world, about yourself (be honest, dark and light and shadows)? Was it humorous, risky, rewarding, or dull? Everyone has a unique perspective, but it may take a while to find it, through reading, through talking to nice, or not-so-nice, people and through challenging and extending yourself by doing activities you wouldn’t normally do. What ‘normalised’ cultural perspective of the world are you traveling with, are you learning through un-learning, are you traveling with too many pre-conceived, instrumentalist ambitions.  I come from the world’s ‘most civilised, uncivilised country’ to paraphrase the Australian Modernist painters of the 1940s and 50s and some countries do have more culture and less modernity than us but they also have more bacteria in their cheese that will make you sick.

There is a reason that most people don’t travel, in search of better cheese. They are scared of the bacteria that will make them sick and are satisfied by the cheese that will make them fat (like the orange cheese in the US). It is the orange cheese people you don’t want on your social feed every day, they will stress you out!

 

What happens when a blog gets old?

As this blog is approaching its thirteenth birthday , I thought that it was about time that I purged some of the fluffy, ephemeral posts that really don’t need to travel with me any longer. The problem with much online media is that a post or comment, that possibly took ten seconds to write, may follow you for many years, perhaps preserved through an historian’s anxiety to not let anything go just in case it may become significant some time in the future.

So I went through the 1350 posts feeling quite dismal because most of them weren’t significant at all! There were lots of pre-Twitted aggregation posts, lots of Conference Calls for eye-watering dull gatherings, that have since been forgotten, and too many rants about politics or Web 2 or the digital humanities that possibly don’t need to be aired for eternity. Painstakingly flipping through all the posts, with an historian’s paint brush and surgeon’s scalpel, I deleted 500, or more than a third, wondering why that particular post had seen the light of day in the first place.

But whilst hitting the delete button I stumbled upon a disturbing theme.  The particular robust deletion policy that I employed was if the resource I linked to was no longer available, and the post was chiefly about that resource, I would delete the post. The problem was that many of the posts weren’t simply about ephemeral matters such as a new ‘Web 2’ company (that has since gone broke) or a new tool or ill-conceived project within the digital humanities or eResearch. Many of the posts were links (broken) to significant reports, tools or services or even complete centres whose very mission it was to preserve digital data, but had long disappeared.

Where did they go?

I checked many of the links, but couldn’t find where the particular digital-preservation resource, centre, tool or report had gone to. It has simply vanished, forgotten, perhaps only existing as a line in a Resume or argument in a new funding application. So not only are we forgetting the significant projects and people that helped build the ‘digital humanities’ and the broader digital culture and economy, but we are also forgetting the very institutions, tools, and services that were actually tasked with preserving them, but failed.  The problem is one of institutional failure, not of technical failure.  It is funding models that don’t work, it is ineptitude, and it is a lack of historical vision to keep what is significant and ditch what is fluffy. The digital archive is the bread and butter of much future research and without it, emerging digital research will be replaced by an emerging digital alchemy.

 

The art of traveling with technology

The availability of inexpensive, digital communication devices has aided the lonely traveler on the long and absconding road to fresh perspectives in a myriad of ways, but then again, if used unwisely, they can diminish travel and make it yet another expression of day-to-day ordinariness (so leave grumpy cat at home!) That said, travel is not really about where you go, but what you take with you, it is about moving away from familiar perspectives into new and challenging ones and trying to understand and cope with them, inescapably, through references to previous knowledge and experiences.

Otto misses his mobile phone! (from Otto; or, Up with Dead People (2008).
Otto misses his mobile phone! (lifted from
Otto; or, Up with Dead People (2008).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The same could be said about ‘travel’ in the broader sense, of moving about the myriad of cultural/social/economic contexts in large complex cities. To be effective at this, one must fully recognise that there are in fact innumerable social/cultural/economic contexts, each with their own set of hierarchies, notions of winning and losing, of geographic and social mobility, language, values, religion, consumer patterns, Queen Bees etc. (and some people believe there are only two cultural contexts, ‘us and them’).

The problem with all mobile communication devices is that they are designed generically with little or no appreciation of moving through cultural complexity and far from being advanced and sophisticated, if used indiscriminately, they make one look like a mass-produced zombie, dragging their knuckles on the pavement, walking up London’s Stand drooling and gawking at the red buses in amazement, ringing other zombies on the telephone and telling them about how amazing red buses are. In other words what can appear to be technically advanced can also be culturally primitive, there is a balance to be struck and that balance starts with a curiosity and willingness to understand the cultural world in which we live, zombies and all