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Hard, Soft and Wet

Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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      Hard, Soft and Wet
Melanie McGrath

First published in 1997 and now available as an ebook.Who are the digital generation? They are the millions of youngsters who live with, and love, the technology with which they are growing up. This is their story. Tomorrow belongs to them.‘This is the book which opens up the electronic frontier to those still left out in the cold, the one McLuhan would have written were he to be still surfing the Nineties’ Arena. ‘At once a romance, a cultural commentary, and a piece of travel writing which adds the virtual world to its itinerary as though it were a new place on the map. ‘ Sadie Plant, The TimesNot another book about youth culture, nor cyberpunks, hackers and VR; not a computing manual; not the history of technology; but a book about the first generation of people to take the information age for granted.A personal portrait of the Wired Generation, exploring the dreams, ambitions, aesthetics and assumptions of all the kids growing up digital, worldwide.In these days of video games, PCs, multimedia and personal stereos, it’s all too easy for the sensitive kids to disappear into worlds of their own, and it happens so quickly — one birthday they’re chirpy and sociable, the next they stay home to watch Robocop for the thirty-seventh time or play Mortal Kombat yet again.


the digital generation comes of age


Dedication (#ulink_e80c68f1-4ea7-5da6-adac-4fe18ad0ef39)

for Alex and Daniel

Epigraph (#ulink_7b604d13-37d1-5314-8871-7292661bdb13)

‘I could tell you my adventures – beginning from this morning,’ said Alice a little timidly; ‘but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.’


Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland


Title Page (#u3cd138da-ee7a-5e19-836c-4b40969ded43)

Dedication (#ufa8365e8-0f7e-57dc-9602-786d70ad92dc)

Epigraph (#u4e174922-3634-56b8-90ca-fc28683e5fcb)

Prologue (#u61948a69-d6c9-5fec-a81b-a3748d70ab36)

I: In Wonderland (CALIFORNIA) (#u3b17d1e8-51a2-5b4e-88f0-502bd8d05641)

II: Home & Away (LONDON) (#u9b873066-efc9-5328-8f74-9d1c86f3daaa)

Intermission (WIREDWORLD) (#litres_trial_promo)

III: Lost in Space (SAN FRANCISCO, BOSTON, NEW YORK) (#litres_trial_promo)

IV: Bonjour Tristesse, or The Unforgiven (ICELAND, ENGLAND, WALES) (#litres_trial_promo)

V: Through the Looking Glass (BERLIN, PRAGUE, MOSCOW, SINGAPORE) (#litres_trial_promo)

Keep Reading (#litres_trial_promo)

Acknowledgements (#litres_trial_promo)

Author's Note (#litres_trial_promo)

About the Author (#litres_trial_promo)

Copyright (#litres_trial_promo)

About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo)

all this began some time ago

I: In Wonderland (#ulink_5d428962-52b0-52b3-a4ec-466e43cacb21)

THERE’S NO EXPLAINING why Nancy and I have stayed friends over the years. We don’t have much in common any more. Not much you could put your finger on. But friends we are, strung together by our few similarities and by the thin, tough mesh of our small shared past.

The airport train unzips to let a couple out, then zips back up and hums away from the station, picking up speed and rediscovering its riff. Beating out the same syllables on its tracks: Am-er-i-ca, Am-er-i-ca. A squall of tunnel air scatters them. Am-er-i-ca. Am-er-i-ca. It’s been fourteen years since I first stepped out of the plane at San Francisco. Now I’m going back. Nancy will be standing at the barrier on the other side waiting for me. Nancy with the troublesome eyes, the air of insouciance, the panoramic humour. Nancy of the good dream.

Out on the other side of the tunnel the rhythm tugs on, a restless, sexy hiss of noise. Am-er-i-ca. Am-er-i-ca. Mad, fat, brave America. Am-er-i-ca. The sound of redwoods big as mushroom clouds, of cream soda cans trapped in cooler bags, of blanket smog tricked out as coastal cloud. Am-er-i-ca. A sway of pricking notes, like liquorice powder on the tongue.

We met in a borrowed apartment on Venice Beach. She was a couple of years older than me, nineteen I think, but assured and at home in herself even then. I thought she was the girl from Ipanema on loan to Los Angeles; tallish, with a swing of a walk and sharp brown hair. We watched TV together, roaring at the re-runs of The Partridge Family and after we were done laughing, we skipped down to the beach and played. She dazzled me. I hung on her words and practised their pronunciation. Bayzil, leeshure, parsta, lootenant. We had all the usual Anglo-American spats, who came first at what.

Later, Nancy’s brother saw me off at the Amtrak station and promised to catch up with the train on his motorbike at Santa Barbara or thereabouts. The last I saw of him, he was standing in a field next to the track, waving and smiling as the train sped by, too fast for him to be able to make out my carriage or me. He moved to Canada some years later, but I was always touched by that gesture. I was seventeen and everything was ripe with meaning.


Apple pie

Nancy was there at the barrier as I’d expected, her hair shorter and still beautiful, with tracings around the eyes. We rumbled along highway 280 into San Francisco, past the industrial centre, past the university and down into 19th Avenue, chirping like caged birds, our heads darting about and our tongues full of this and that. The city was looking just so in the afternoon sun.

‘When Brezhnev came, he asked if people had to pay an extra tax to come and live here,’ said Nancy.

‘Well it’s not cheap.’ We’d already stopped off for a long shot of latte. I’d noticed the prices of a few things.

‘No, but it’s pretty.’

And with the broad light showing off the pastel-coloured porches and bougainvillaea flowers strewn along 19th Ave, it was pretty. Fine and pretty.

As we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge I turned in my seat so as not to miss the view of the Bay with the Transamerica building shining like a chunk of Toblerone still wrapped in its foil and the rocky bubbles of Alcatraz and Angel Island. Coit Tower was murky red against the haze with Pacific Heights and Nob Hill behind and North Beach at the other side, the lot piled up against the hills as rumpled as a plate of pastel berries, or maybe a volcano cast in scumble glaze. I began to smile. The car tyres continued tocking over the metal stress bars of the bridge while Nancy and I fell silent and happy.

At Strawberry Point we dropped down onto the slip road and lost sight of the city. Fuddled with pride, Nancy turned to me and said in a choked-up voice:

‘Shall we get something to eat?’

‘Yeah,’ I replied in an instant. ‘McDonald’s apple pie.’

And now it is the middle of the Californian night, and I’m sitting on the bed in Nancy’s spare room listening to the crack of the cedar shingles and the distant mechanical blur of traffic running along the Golden Gate Bridge and into the Waldo tunnel. A sweep of light from a passing car flares against the books pinned up about the room. Four shelves on the history of science, two more on computing, a small collection of modern novels, software guides and a couple of teach yourself programming manuals, all smelling of must and chemicals.

Somewhere below the house, at the water’s edge along the rim of shingle, a nightbird caws.

America. Here I am once more.


By the time I wake Nancy has left for work. A note in her familiar hand lies on the table:

‘Sweetheart. I’ll be back early so we can go for a walk in Muir Woods, OK?’

Muir Woods is my favourite spot in the whole of Northern California. It is where the Spanish moss hangs from the branches of thick red trees as old as gunpowder.

Over the past couple of years Nancy has been marketing software for a company in Marin. We’ve never spoken about it much. Our friendship isn’t based on long shared experience, but on some intangible, timeless affection. Whenever I think of my friend, I am haunted by those impressions of her that were first imprinted on my memory when I was seventeen. Sunny brown hair, a restless air and a wide confident swing. We don’t have to know much about the everyday run of one another’s lives, to love one another all the same.

Down in Strawberry Village at lunchtime my eye is drawn to the ‘$3.99 high-tech burrito special’ on offer at the local taqueria. A regular-looking burrito arrives: flour tortilla, beans, cheese, shredded lettuce, sour cream on the side.

‘What’s the high-tech part?’ The waiter looks at me darkly.

‘I don’t know, lady.’

He fills up my glass so hard that waves of iced water explode from the rim and wet the table.

Along one of the main trails in Muir Woods, just beyond the visitor centre, there is a slice of redwood tree with its age rings marked out in years of human history. Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America is marked on a ring about three-quarters of the way in, the Declaration of Independence is three-quarters of the way out and the American Civil War is so new that it’s almost set into bark. Each time Nancy and I have been out to Muir Woods together we’ve had the same conversation standing in front of that piece of tree. It’s a ritual. Nancy says something like: ‘Look at the huge gaps between markers until you get to the twentieth century, which is all backed up, like more has happened in the last hundred years than in all the other centuries combined.’ And I generally reply with some platitude like: ‘Yeah, it makes you think, doesn’t it?’

Dry weather has brought up the dust in Muir Woods, thickening the stems of bright sun bursting through the trees. A few jars wheeze under the canopy and the air is big in stillness.
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