Lazy Luddite Log


Parallel Lines

I am finding that I am more and more involved in some of the many forms that the Internet takes (or is it that it is becoming more involved with me). I recently got onto Facebook as a way of keeping track of my travelling sibling Lukas (who seems to be spending time traversing 'zip-lines' in the canopy of Thai forests). And once one is there one starts interacting with all sorts of other friends and acquaintances (who on networking sites like Facebook are all 'friends'). And so it has been this way a number of times now - I have followed friends or loved-ones onto particular sites and then get stuck there. And then I experience an interesting phenomena - that of communicating in parallel lines...

What am I saying? Well there is one friend recently that I will talk with on the landline phone and exchange some mobile texts with and have some long multi-topic conversations with on email and have some much shorter and more one-track exchanges with via a networking site. And in all these different lines very rarely do topics cross from medium to medium!

Naturally some media lend themselves to different levels of communication than others - texting is very limited by both the cost and the size of the keypad and the number of fingers one can effectively use. So texting messages tend to be short and pithy and fun (or the other thing which is totally functional and intended just to confirm plans). In contrast an email can go on for pages and cover all sorts of ground in wonderful complexity. But still I wonder why is it that topics seem to be quarantined within one line of conversation and rarely cross into the other? It seems to almost be some form of etiquette. Or is it just me?

A result of these parallel (non-intersecting) lines is that I can sometimes loose track of what I have discussed with someone and it can sometimes even feel as if my interaction with one person is a number of distinct interactions. Does contemporary communications technology lend itself to the more multi-faceted personality?




Last week the Commonwealth of Australia made a formal apology for the actions of past governments in relation to the Stolen Generations of Indigenous Australians. It was the only political story of any significance that I have bothered paying any attention to lately.

I was busy last Wednesday morning, otherwise I may have gone into Federation Square to see the instant televising to an attentive crowd of the opening of Parliament and the apology speeches. As it was, I got home from some job-seeking errands that morning and switched on the Internet. I accessed an audio-visual recording on a news site, but rather than watch, I simply wandered around the house listening, like in the days of hearing important news over the radio. The speech was well-written and nicely delivered by the Prime Minister Mr Rudd. I even appreciated much of the speech of the Opposition Leader Mr Nelson, despite its equivocations. Overall I was cheered all day (otherwise a very mixed day) because this is something that I have been wanting for maybe a decade.

There has been some discussion then and since on the nature of the apology and its reception. I was involved in a few such discussions and want to make some comments arising from them. To start with – the nature of the word “sorry” and whether it was an apology. For every person who chose to say sorry that day (e.g. on Facebook profiles) it may well simply signify that “I share in your sorrow”. If I tell a person that I have lost a loved-one in a car crash they are likely to say “I am so sorry”. Why? They never killed my relative but they do feel for me and wish it were otherwise. So that may well be a satisfactory definition of what “sorry” is for me to say. But for the Government it is more than that.

The composition of the Federal Government may change but the Commonwealth of Australia is a legal and political entity with a continuous existence since 1901. With that in mind, the apology given by the PM was an apology in the sense of that entity acknowledging its past mistakes. The forced removal of children and separation of siblings from one another (whatever the circumstances or motivations at the time) is now recognised as a wrong thing to do and it was something done with the approval of the Federal Government. Someone objected to this on the grounds that such responsibility is “non-transitive” and dismissed the continuous existence of the Federal Government as one entity as a legal fiction. But the thing is that the Federal Government and the nation-state of Australia are legal fictions so I figure they can do fictional things.

A lot of supporters of the apology have expressed concern at the existence of many Australians (a significant minority) objecting to the apology. I however am relaxed by the whole thing. Ever since the tabling of the Bringing Them Home Report there has been a growing number of us who were saddened by the reticence of the then Government to make the recommended apology. Others however were supportive of such reticence. Now however our roles are reversed – we are happy and they are sad. That is fine by me. That is the nature of politics in a democracy. Nobody gets everything the way they want it. How many like me did things such as display bumper stickers saying that we never endorsed Australian involvement in recent wars? If we can be conscientious objectors then how can we deny that to others? I would only say to the objectors that the apology – like the forced removal in times past – is now an historic fact that cannot be changed – better then to move onto other issues of more concern and relevance to you.

So why is an apology so important? I know of some who think that the most well-crafted of speeches will do nothing for living conditions in (say) remote Aboriginal settlements. They may be right. But in focusing on just ‘practical’ reconciliation I think they are missing something: Feelings are an ever-present part of the lives of every person. An insult of whatever vintage can linger and fester in the memory of a person or group of persons. Think of incidents in your own life and relationships. Society is just a network of human relationships. Some experiences once internalized can have a big impact on behaviour and self-perceptions. And they also impact on those who made the insult to start with. An apology can start to change feelings - what is more practical than that?

Over this action of the new Federal Government I for one am stoked.




I went for a walk along Clayton Road a few evenings back to go get my favourite pizza. There is a new (yet to be activated) lighted pedestrian crossing close to Bayview Avenue. I stopped. I just had to lay a hand on the pole accommodating the crossing request button. It was something I had imagined long ago and now it was tangible.

I had lived in a share household several years ago and would have to cross Clayton Road close to Bayview Avenue to get to Monash Uni. Many many others had to do just that but the traffic at times was horrendous. One would have to make a decision to do one of three things:

- Wait ages till a safe break in the traffic

- Take ones life into ones hands and cross in a timely but risky manner

- Walk all the way to the lights at Dandenong or Fern Tree Gully Roads

I got sick of it and decided to make a bit of a fuss. So I prepared a petition and stood at that intersection a few times to collect signatures. I also collected signatures from my personal networks. I forget what number I got – maybe 100 – and I submitted it to the Monash Council asking that they consult with Vic Roads on the feasibility of a lighted crossing at that location. In response I got a rather confusing letter that seemed to say both yes it was a worthwhile proposal and no it was far from necessary.

I kinda forgot the whole thing then. I think one time I saw what may have been some surveying work done there but nothing definitive. And now there is to be a lighted crossing. I understand that there have been some pretty nasty accidents there in recent times and I suspect that it is such incidents, rather than my petition, that have made this happen.

Still, standing next to this hunk of metal and wiring was a sudden and surprisingly emotional moment for me. I feel that too many of the things I have put the most commitment and energy into – particularly political things – have fallen apart, so to encounter this small token of success provoked mixed feelings. How much was my bit of paper a factor in this development? How much does it matter as long as the thing will improve the lives of those using it? How important is something like this in the grand scheme-of-things? How many times in this paragraph do I use the word “thing”?

Once it is operating I will have to go and use it just coz I can (even if I now live on the same side of Clayton Road as campus). I can think of it as mine even if it belongs to everyone. Take that pesky cars!

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