Sunday, 27 January 2013

Next exit: Never Never Land

I turned 34 years old in the wake of the New Year.

I still look young for my age. In fact, I sometimes get asked for ID when I buy alcohol at the supermarket. And I don't really consider myself a Generation X-er - I personally identify more with Generation Pacman, which was reinforced with a recent visit to the Game Masters exhibition at Te Papa. My only complaint was that the home computer phenomenon was largely glossed over - no C64, no Amiga, no Atari 2600 - with the arcade game pioneers section skipping straight to the consoles section.

Not all that long ago, people were lucky to live to 34 before public health measures and the Industrial Revolution took effect - if they hadn't otherwise been conscripted to fight in far off lands. Now, 34 is considered relatively young in this day and age, and for the most part I don't feel any sign of an impending mid-life crisis. Neither do Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp for that matter. Or Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, in spite of all the illicit substances they've ingested over the years. Maybe they've all mastered the art of the distinguished rogue.

I currently remain single, but eligible - the trick is where to start. As a modest-earning nerd of Cantonese extraction, I'm not quite Brad or Johnny, but neither am I Jay or Silent Bob. Still, there's plenty of time to get lucky. There are lots of guys in a similar situation who are older than I am, and I count a few of them in my inner circle.

Fairfax NZ journalists Nick Churchouse and Lane Nichols posted the Lost Boys blog series during 2008 and 2009, which chronicled their experiences as single 30-somethings making their way through the vagaries of early 21st-Century life. In a way I personally identified with these still-young men, who may or may not still be single.

Which brings me to the question: is Joe Average surplus to requirements in this day and age of advancing technology? Jet fighters, tanks and UAVs have made conscription obsolete, and hence no more (hopefully) World Wars to fight. Manufacturing and other physical jobs are now heavily done far more reliably by robots (and increasingly 3D printers). Software has replaced certain clerical occupations. The likes of Silicon Valley entrepreneur Martin Ford have theorised that ICT has broken the disruptive technology cycle where workers easily transitioned from producing horse-drawn buggies to motor vehicles, and supposedly contributing to the phenomenon known as the "jobless recovery".

Even without technology being a factor, Spain and Greece now have unemployment levels eclipsing that of America during the Great Depression, and Britain and America are still feeling the effects of the GFC's fallout. Even post-grads have struggled to find gainful employment.

In a way, the rise of the Internet - itself a disruptive technology - has allowed people to reconnect with what they grew up with, in the face of a tidal wave of uncertainty over what the future holds. Kurt Andersen of Vanity Fair certainly thinks it's the case.