Wired's Wonders of the World


From Wired Magazine (January 1994)

by Douglas Coupland

From Seven Wired Wonders on Senior Citizens

Among the greatest feats of biosocial engineering ever executed and yet one that remains strangely overlooked is our abundance of senior citizens.

Prior to WWII, an old person was an oddity in Western culture, comprising only an insignificant proportion of the general populace. Now -- and particularly into the next century -- old people and their needs that will dominate political and social debate almost exclusively.

There is no historical precedent for this, in any place or any time.

Because of their relative scarcity until recently, our culture as a whole has tended to sentimentalize and over-revere old people. As events have played out, an abundance of "elders" has in no way shepherded in a golden age of wisdom and knowledge. Any notions of a wisdom-filled, Grandpa-Waltonian utopia were shelved years ago. Life extension has become a monolithic, unstoppable end in itself.

Question: Has it been worth it? Where, exactly, is the "wisdom dividend"?

The wisdom dividend has turned out to be neither spiritual, nor cosmic or slight, but (as with the benefits of space travel or war in this century) played out in a vast technological trickle-down.

The dream of an immortal society is the dominant engine powering the bulk of most 20th-century research in countless areas including medicine, pharmaceuticals, surgery, and life extension techniques as well as developments in politics and finance -- entitlements, pension funds, mutual funds.

The major question society must ask itself right now is, "When does the dream stop outweighing the benefits?" (And what's the deal with all these Bob Hope specials?)

From In the Eyes of Other Wired Thinkers

Lunch on the Concorde:

  • Glamour, stars, and speed: the embodiment of the 20th Century. Ghosts of Andy Warhol and Halston said to haunt seats 3A and 3B. Liza's still around.
  • Added Bonus--Can't last much longer -- imminent doom can only enhance the glamour.
  • CNN/MTV:
    • The closest as a species we've come yet to having a family dinner-table conversation.
    • Added Bonus--Very little of the psychodrama that normally accompanies family dinners.
  • Eastern Bloc Nuclear Reactors:
    • Simply because none of them have exploded yet. Chernobyl was a burb.
    • Added Bonus--The exciting, tingly feeling waiting for it to happen.
  • Lego Satan's playtoy:
    • These seemingly "educational" little blocks of connectable fun and happiness have irrevocably brainwashed entire generations of primarily G7 youth into developing mindsets that view the world as unitized, inorganic, interchangeably modular, and populated by bland limbless creatures with cutishly sweet smiles. Responsible for everything from postmodern architecture to middle-class anal behavior over the "perfect lawn" (symbolic of the green plastic base pads).
    • Added Bonus--No bonuses here. Lego must die.
  • Home VCRs/Remote Control Devices:
    • Have done more damage to human attention spans on a day-to-day level than three decades of network TV combined, thus boldly preparing humanity for the ultra information-dense world of the 21st Century.
    • Added Bonus--Channel surfing is indeed fun.
  • Cocoa Puffs:
    • To eat a bowl of extruded cocoa-tinted corn byproduct nodules "endorsed" by Sonny the Cocoa Puffs Bird -- a form of secular transubstantiation -- yes or no? As a product category, pre-sweetened breakfast cereals more than most others typify the way in which a secular technological culture sublimates its religious impulses into consumer ones.
    • Added Bonus--Fond memories of the Trix Rabbit and Lucky the Lucky Charms Leprechaun.