Suburbanity and the Future

07/10/2008 By Shawn Burns

I spent my birthday being suburban. I woke up, drove my Camry to drop my wife at work in her office building, and then went to breakfast at IHOP where I sat Erin in a plastic high chair and watched her stain her dress with blueberries that had probably never seen a shady forest. We followed that up with a nap, because I tire easily at the corner of Maple and Chestnut.

………….In War and Peace, when asked why he is going to war, Prince Andrei replies: "I’m going because this life I am leading here–this life is–not to my taste." …………………..

After naptime we went to Target, because I needed some cargo shorts. The shorts I was wearing had holes through both pockets and I carry a lot of the suburbs with me: car keys, a digital camera, a Blackberry, a leather wallet that I bought at the mall. I usually put my keys in my right pocket, close the doors and walk away while clicking the clicker that will either alert me that my vehicle is secure in the parking lot formerly known as paradise, or that my doors are open and need to be closed before being locked. I needed new cargo shorts because I was tired of putting my keys in my left pocket; they kept falling through the right one.

I bought three nearly identical pairs of shorts, the only difference between them being one of shade, not colour.

………………and they’re all made out of ticky tacky…………….

Then we drove to the mall, because Target wasn’t big enough for us to spread ourselves out in.

We dined at Beni Hana, where we made faces at Erin while the chef-ertainment put on a show in the toughest house around. She smiled at him a few times.

The most significant scene in Wall-E, I think, is the one where the floating indolents change their outfits from red to blue, with the push of a button and without hesitation. This false choice, so important to them, allows them to satisfy the human need to navigate forks without risking the consequences of a real choice, one with consequences. Their condition, and the condition of the planet they flee, is a result of these simulations of choice.

………I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately…..

The human brain is a big prediction generator. Over time it develops archetypes, patterns of learned and created reality that it uses to see into the future. Our human curiosity is more than anything else a drive to feed the prediction machine. Because if we can feed the prediction machine it can help keep us safe, and keep our genes safe, to spread out and populate. Our brains run little simulations of the world and its events, micro-seconds ahead.

The suburbs are a simulation, and within this simulation we are safe, and our genes are safe, and we can make choices without consequences.

…………………Not with a______, but a whimper………………..

Our sun is dying.

"When it gets too hot here," says the man on The National Geographic Channel, "we have two choices: to adapt to life here or to move on."

"Or die," says Emily.

"That’s really morbid," says I.

"I’ve never thought that human beings would always be around," she explains.

"I have."

……………………Soylent Green is people………………………..

The suburbs, and the people living in the suburbs making their simulated choices, are a resource.

Technology, sufficiently advanced, looks like magic.

Technology, the manipulation of the pure stuff of the universe, can help us in our daily individual lives. It can also be the cause of our soul-death. What happens when we are constantly connected to everyone else through our Blue-tooth brainchips? Individuality dies, and there are no more creations from individual genius. Souls are individual expressions of the stuff of the universe. When people can communicate in the same way that the two hemispheres of our prediction-machine brains can, then there is just one person, made up of tiny little resources. People the size of neurons.

But will the technology inspired by, funded by, demanded by, the suburbanite help the population achieve escape velocity and carry on, out there? Or does it take individual genius to leap into space?

Does soul-death ensure the safety of our genes?

………….That’s my daughter in the water, everything she owns I bought her……………..

My genes are sleeping in the other room. She doesn’t know that the sun is dying. But she loves Target, she smiled at the chef-ertainer, and she has blueberries all over her dress.

I will keep her safe, here in the simulation, and I will hope that doing so also helps us achieve escape velocity.

I will hold the soul death at bay through deliberate choices, wherever those choices are available to me in my simulation.

But my first choice has to be to embrace the simulation. Because if all I do is tolerate it, then I am one of the pseudo-humans in Wall-E, carried along on my hover chair and never noticing that I have no choices left.

I love the show Weeds. And The Olive Garden

………You do the hokey-pokey and you turn yourself around; that’s what it’s all about……….

As we left the Target and returned to our car, we saw that the driver’s side door was open and there was a security guard standing near by. We approached, and he asked me if the grey Camry was mine. "Yes. How long has the door been open?"

"The whole time," he replied.

My shorts had a hole in the right pocket, so I put my keys in my left pocket when I got out of the car. I pulled Erin out of the back seat and she was so excited to see the Target logo that she practically hopped out of my arms to race over to the giant red concrete spheres. I let her lead me away.

Completely forgetting that I hadn’t closed my door.

And because I had put my keys in my left pocket I hadn’t felt them when I put my hand in my right pocket, my habit. And so I hadn’t pressed the ‘lock’ button, and the car had not beeped at me to say that the doors weren’t all closed.

It’s a good thing I have new shorts from Target now, or else the next time this happened someone could have stolen my iPod.


Don’t worry if this is confusing. I don’t understand it myself. I’m just feeling very suburban today and trying to feel better about it.