101st Airborne

It’s pitch black outside and I’m 33,000 feet in the air, heading for Southeast Asia. Right now we’re crossing the English Channel from London to Amsterdam, and pretty soon we’ll be rotating towards the Mid-East, flying over the Ukraine, Turkey, Iran, and across the Indian Ocean. Then the western Pacific. Right now we’re 5780 miles away from our destination, cruising at 670 miles per hour.

We’re at latitude 45 degrees north, the wind astern giving us an extra forty knot edge. The very same westerlies that pushed Vasco da Gama home in the “Torna viagem”, the final leg from the Azores to Lisbon. Gama took two years to do the round trip from Lisbon to Calicut, on India’s western coast; I’ll land in Bangkok at 4 pm local, if the big bird behaves himself.

The India Road, five centuries on

That’s the measure of change, in a period of five centuries. Coming up to two years now, I wrote in an early post on this blog about the long tail, and the ideas of Clay Shirky and Chris Anderson. It helped explain why book stores prize their shelf real estate, why books have to be blockbusters to make it on to those shelves, and why so much money goes into promotion.

On this 747 (which also has a long tail), the same rules apply: a business class seat costs about three times coach, mainly because it occupies three times the real estate. First would be double that for similar reasons. The embarrassment of riches that we demand in the age of information means that I have about one hundred movies and TV shows to choose from, as well as lifestyle, route, and arrivals information. And it’s all on demand, none of this timetable stuff. What I want, when I want! Then there are games, but I’m worried about those. I reckon I can still beat a 747 at chess, but if it’s a sore loser (I am) it might just dump me in the Andaman Sea. Checkmate.

No internet yet on my screen, but it won’t be long in coming. And that’s my point. Change, and the speed of it. One of the areas that has really shifted is relationships. Young people (and sometimes not so young people) have shifted lifestyles, in ways that keep them in touch without being together, or rather not always being together. The social networking tools, VOIP, low-cost airlines, globalization, and the ever-elusive job market work together to pulverize, rather than unite. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

There goes the neighborhood, welcome to the shift in space and time. It’s all moving towards the Ultimate Long Distance Electronic Relationship, the ULDER, where remote sex will also be somehow possible. It’ll give a whole new meaning to the Virtual Private Network, or VPN. Not to mention tunneling. The move from twitter to twatter will have earth-shattering consequences.

I’m not sure how or when it’ll happen, but it’s a natural high tech extension of the use of the net. Already a vast amount of sexual gratification is dispensed remotely online. Pornographic websites account for over 70% of web traffic, and given that there are an estimated two billion internet users, that’s a lot of dirty surfing – in fact, it’s so prevalent I’ll christen it durfing. Second Life is nowadays full of avatars for businesses, hobbies, and education. And sex. Cheap plastic surgery, which gets you a virtual self that matches your ideal you, and role playing. A couple years back I explored the use of speaking avatars on websites, and the market is growing all the time and branching in different ways, driven by social networking, interactive collaborative platforms, and broader bandwidth. Characters are more realistic, and they can do more stuff. Pretty soon you’ll be watching yourself doing things you haven’t told yourself to do. Or don’t know how to.

Many of those sites will become increasingly interactive, and the developments with the Wii console (appropriately pronounced wee) and games like Guitar Hero, with artefacts and body movements, suggest that I’ll shortly be right. And there will be kit. Plenty of it, and expensive. The kind of stuff S&M stores dispense will become microwired, and the chips will be hot.

The old and new at Bangkok airport: representatives of the sky and the heavens

Today we came in from the west, over Rangoon, now capital of a dictatorship, and Moulmein. This was the land of Kipling, and he adored it. When he got back to London he found it slow and boring, the women uninteresting after his romp through the edges of the British Empire. In The Road to Mandalay he wrote what are perhaps my favorite lines of English poetry.

Ship me somewhere’s east of Suez
Where the best is like the worst
Where there ain’t no ten commandments
And a man can raise a thirst

Sinatra put it to music, and in a memorable live version in Las Vegas he replaced the “Moulmein” line for “By the Egg Foo-Yung Pagoda”.

As I finish this off, popping my ears as we make our final approach, I leave you with the news that Thailand also has its KKK. Except here it stands for Khop Khun Krap, and it means thank-you.


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