I spend my days inside of a computer.
I sit inside of a computer, putting text into files and moving those files into the cloud, alternating between Eminem and The Dixie Chicks and occasionally opening Google Maps and dropping myself somewhere in Idaho¹.
When I need to ask the person next to me a question, I send them a message on Slack:
Are you free? 🤸♀ 🎈 🌈
I get so absorbed into my computer that when I leave my desk to go to the bathroom or get lunch or make a cup of tea, I’ve forgotten where I am or who I am or how to walk or anything else other than what I’m working on and which song I’m listening to.
I listen to music practically all the time when I’m working because it makes sitting inside of a computer more comfortable.
There is something nice about being 100% inside — not sitting on the fence, hearing the footsteps of people’s sneakers and the sound of hands opening snack cabinets.
It’s not because I like being inside of my computer all the time. It’s the opposite — if I hear the familiar sounds of the real world, I want to be a part of it. I want to get up and talk to someone in the kitchen about the number of Prets around Bishopsgate² or meditation or the way our office looks like a regional midwestern airport or Bruce Springsteen³. And since none of that is technically what I’m paid to do, I sit with headphones on and stay inside of my computer.
But, I forgot my headphones last Friday, which meant that I had to sit the whole day slightly less inside of my computer. And even though I was trying to work as best as I could, I was also listening to every single conversation that was happening around me.
A lot of people in my office talk to customers on the phone as their job. We’re an energy company⁴, and so customers call in and my colleagues talk to them about the customer’s bills or the customer’s energy meters or they sign the customer up to use our energy. And sometime around noon, one of my colleagues was on the phone with someone who wanted to sign up.
As part of the process of switching energy suppliers, my colleague asked the person what their birthday was.
It was when my colleague said out loud the number “thirty four” that I realised I had been paying attention to their call at all. Thirty four — the person on the other end of the line, signing up to Bulb on Friday around noontime, had been born in the year 1934.
I wasn’t even sure that what I heard was possible — can someone still be alive if they’re born in 1934? — so I immediately opened a tab on my computer and searched 2019 minus 1934 and found out the person was eighty five years old. I opened up another new tab on my computer and went to Wikipedia and typed in 1934.
Hitler became the Führer of Germany. Persia became Iran. Austria was having a civil war. The Australian Frontier Wars ended after 146 years.
Fujifilm was founded. Alcatraz became an official federal prison. The famous Loch Ness monster photograph was taken. Bonnie and Clyde were killed in a police ambush.⁵
It’s hard to imagine a world where Hitler just came into power. A world where Bonnie and Clyde weren’t just referenced in films and talked about in songs — a world where children heard on the radio that Bonnie and Clyde were finally killed in Bienville Parish, Louisiana and their mothers lifted their heads up from doing the ironing and exclaimed oh, good riddance.
A world where this song, Cocktails for Two, hit #1 in the charts:
1934 is so different from 2019 that it’s almost hard to believe that it really happened.
And despite that fact — that 1934 is a distant year which only appears in cloudy black and white photographs and on Wikipedia — 1934 still exists in our modern world because this person — this eighty five year old person signing up to switch energy suppliers — is still alive.
Eighty five year olds spend their days in 2019.
They were 27 when The Beatles formed and 55 when the internet was invented and now the only way to listen to music is on the internet and all music is made with computers and most of the members of the Beatles are dead.
And I can’t tell what that feels like.
Does the world feel strange because cigarettes are bad for you, we have in vitro fertilisation and because women shave their heads and people don’t have to wear suits to work and children can go to kindergarten in the forest⁶?
I imagine that eighty five year olds might feel the same way about spending their days in 2019 as I do about spending my days inside of my computer: not particularly interested with where they are, but determined to keep their headphones on. Because, despite the fact that they really liked 1934 better, they live in 2019 now and there is no use in reminiscing about something they can’t return to.
I can’t imagine the relief that eighty-five year olds must feel when they can finally take their headphones off and jump back into the past. When they can finally be around other eighty five year olds and reminisce about watching Peugeot 401s drive by while they played on the sidewalk.
As much as we try to be inclusive and understanding of people, I don’t know how good 2019 is for everyone. To those born in 1934, we probably seem no more relatable than computers.
What mattered more to her was that she had suddenly found a bit of her youth here, a greeting reaching her from the distance of half a century. She was thrilled by the thought that everything she long ago experienced was still with her, surrounding her in her loneliness and speaking to her.
- Somewhere outside of Elk City, Idaho:
2. There are a lot:
3. Growing up, I didn’t like to listen to Bruce Springsteen. He reminded me of long rides up the New Jersey turnpike, staring out of the window looking at nothing but more highway. Of having to go to the bathroom and my dad saying that I could hold it. I thought he glorified New Jersey and that New Jersey glorified him. But that’s all over now. Have you heard the song Thunder Road?
4. I work at a renewable energy company called Bulb.
5. I know what you’re thinking: Hey, but wait a minute. Doesn’t a lot of stuff probably happen every single year?
The answer is yes. To check, I took a look at all of the events that happened in 1933 and found that 1933 was perhaps an even more eventful year.
Unsurprisingly, it seems a lot of what happened in 1933 were the precursor large moments that made the large moments of 1934 possible. For instance, Dachau, the first concentration camp, was completed and opened outside of Munich⁷ and the first modern sighting of the Loch Ness monster was reported. There were also a variety of events that were not precursors to 1934: Krispy Kreme opened its first store, Monopoly was invented. Air France was established and Albert Einstein arrived in the United States as a refugee. Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge began. The Mexican Indian wars ended after 414 years.
For the sake of science, I also looked up a completely different year to see whether the 1930s were an outlier decade.
In 1985, Tommy Hilfiger was established and DNA was first used in criminal cases. The internet’s domain name system was created and Microsoft released Windows 1.0. The first Nintendo home console was released. Emirate Airlines was established and Live Aid took place. South Africa ended its ban on interracial marriages and Colorado passed the first American ban on smoking indoors.
It seems like a lot happens each and every year.
6. Forest kindergartens (Waldkindergartens) are popular in Germany and encourage children to spend as much time as possible learning and exploring in the forest.
7. I need to mention that 1933 and 1934 were very large years for Nazi Germany and that I could have written about dozens of enormous events from these years just concerning Nazi Germany and World War II. Hitler became Füherer in 1934 as a result of a series of increasingly horrendous events that are known to most people but that are always worth revisiting. He was appointed Chancellor of Germany in January of 1933. Dachau was completed two months later in March. In late march, there was a country-wide protest of Jewish businesses in Germany. In may, Nazi’s staged massive book burnings and several days later legalise eugenic sterilization. By June, all non-Nazi parties were forbidden in Germany. You can read more about this incredibly sad timeline here.