Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Past

Nostalgia is not my usual state of mind. And yet the other night I was pondering over some icons that are vanishing in our new digital world. Take the telephone box. I was born in the UK and grew up with the classic red phone box. To me they will always be Dr Who’s mysterious gateway to the past, the present and the future. In the US, Clark Kent of course used a phone box for his transformation to Superman. Then there are the more personal experiences. The intimacy of being shut inside a telephone box talking to someone you love - the weather and other phone users beating on the door.

Today the phone box is battling with irrelevance. Contemporary Dr Who’s and Supermen make other arrangements and all lovers have cell phones. Yes, cell phones are pushing phone boxes into history. In the UK, there are apparently still 64,000 of them but no one uses them much and most are unprofitable.

A few years ago, there was a flurry of interest in payphones that did more. You know the kind of stuff – go on the Web, get tourist information, etc. The problem? Cell phones can do all this and sit in your pocket. So the phone box as a symbol of connection is being hollowed out and icons without substance don’t survive.

The same digital transformation is ushering the postcard to the same fate. Still with us but their vitality is slipping away. Sending your own personal images by email or cell phone is so much more intimate. How can a picture printed on cardboard compete with a sisomo sound clip via YouTube? It can’t. And so it goes. I’m also told that on February 17, 2009 those icons of the television age, the roof top aerial and the v-shaped rabbit’s ears will become victims of the digital age, at least in the United States.

My point is not to bewail the past, but to make sure our future holds the best of the past. We need past, present and future. My digital icons of today are more about attitude and motion than physical objects. Cell phone styles change with the seasons, so what’s iconic to me is people head-down smiling into the palms of their hands; people talking to themselves with energy and confidence; people rocking in their own iPod world.


Susan956 said...

I consider it intriguing to speak of "attitude and motion" being icons (then may I ask why my concept of "The Invisibles" were rejected as Lovemarks? :).. worth an ask..heh).

I was absorbed by the whole article today although I disengaged at "people talking to themselves with energy and confidence". I have referred to this in other posts here so at least my response is consistent. However, I WILL admit that I am often pulled to look at men standing on street corners etc chatting happily as I pull up to lights and wait. I'm not so thrilled when this is in my space and it's interesting that I find it easier to accept from men than women.

The following is one group's presentation of icons. It is at least visually aesthetic even though some images I don't recognise.

The hula hoop did stand out to me and Astro Boy's eye. I can still sing my old high school anthem as well as the music from the Jetson's (and Happy Little Vegemighters).

I absolutely agree re the phoneboxes. I see very very few in Australia now although they don't have the same iconic value as the red timber ones do. There is a potentially rich comparative narrative there.

I drove past a site the other day and said to the driver.."Look look..Blakie's buses!!" Because there standing side by side were a pair of the old double decker buses as you see on the show "On the Buses".

I like moving through a city and seeing beautiful, glorious historic stone buildings and then fine examples of modern architecture. A noted architect charged with restructuring an Asian city chose to keep some of current side alley (some would say slum) structures and was fought over the decision. I suspect he understand what is being discussed today and also the importance of light/shade (in all it's interpretations).

All of this said, please don't send me an e-card unless it will knock my socks off. It's not a compliment compared, in this case, to something chosen and sent in the mail. It's one of the rare cases for me that the digital age doesn't quite cut it.


Kempton said...

Hello Kevin,

I think you said it all and best in this post. Nothing for me to add except a correction.

Dr Who's phone box is Blue. And I don't think he will do away with his box any time soon. There are just so much Mystery, Sensuality, and Intimacy with the blue phone box. A tiny blue box that reveals into its own world and much bigger inside, sorry, IMHO, can't be done.

Best Regards,

P.S. Dr. Who is a great BBC show. Wonderful work of imagination and top-notch story writing and telling. Great stuff.
P.P.S. Here is a spoiler. Skip this if you have not yet watch the wonderful season 3 episode 11. Oh man, Dr. Who is seriously in need of getting back into his blue box at the moment. Kevin, check out the new Season 3 Dr. Who, it may grow on you.