As a programmer, I understand the impulse to make things more logical and efficient. My job leads me down many routes, most bordered by high levees of reason and analysis which attempt, vainly though it may seem, to channel the flow and make sense of this essentially random experience we call life. And so it is that I find myself unable, at a cognitive level, to feel any dissatisfaction with the people who invented Indian call centres. It makes perfect sense, taking hard-working people from a country with a weak currency and putting them to task supporting customers who, through no fault of their own, prefer to talk to a human being rather than merely click on a website. It's annoying, having customers who cling, pointlessly, to the idea that a human might somehow understand their plight better than a machine, but needs must as the devil drives and the cheapest option is to hire the very minimum level of service that provides that societal kick we all crave so irrationally. And yet it doesn't quite work. This evening I spent forty minutes talking to, ostensibly, a representative of my hosting company, trying to get her to understand the concept of the difference between a domain name and a hosting account. Clinging to her script as a drowning man to a straw, she became quite snippy, rolling out one rote pacifying phrase after another. "Let me just check those details for you," she said. "Let me just try to check these informations on my screen." At one point she hit the nadir of nonsensical bullshit by imploring me to stay on the line so she could, "confirm these details with you while I put you on hold." Pardon?
Eventually I lost my rag and hung up. I rang the American line in the hope that, contacting a company during its native country's business hours, I might get through to somebody who spoke English or - God forbid - technical English - as a first language. No such luck. Although the new guy had enough gumption to understand what the problem was, he found himself bound by the script and by the internal processes of a company for whom he neither worked directly nor had the authority to act in any meaningful fashion. He, too, put me on hold rather than deal with my muted wrath and, just as I was feeling most depressed at this awful perversion of societal interaction, played me U2's "One".
And so it is that perhaps the defining emotional call to human unity and understanding of my generation's youth was associated with that most base and insulting fob-off, the call centre hold music. But it got worse; next up on the playlist was "Tonight, tonight", a rarely upbeat (and all the more heart-rending because of it) celebration of life from the Smashing Pumpkins, the very essence of frustrated, disillusioned 1990s teenage angst. I could have cried.
Luckily however I was just numbly irritated. It's all much of a muchness, of course; the same impulse that led me to this situation is the same logic that allows these bastions of modern culture to be sold like cheap trinkets to those who least understand their origins. Bono and Corgan were motivated not by money (or so I, and many of my age, would love to believe) but by the need to express the pain and joy of the human condition and yet here was I, listening to a pathetic, tinny rendition of their magna opi over a fucking telephone while I waited for somebody who neither understood nor cared for my predicament to come back with another placatory euphemism. The RIAA may come down hard on students who share their music with gay, profitless abandon but they have already sold out their credibility by treating their precious ward as a cheap product, to be traded like so much sand and milked for every penny regardless of the end user's experience.
This is exactly what we saw coming twenty years ago, as the freedom generation finally gave in to their basest impulses and used their rebellion against the strait jacket of their post-war upbringing not to overthrow the barriers to self expression but to undermine and sell out the very things that made our culture so valuable. We, the progeny of these GM flower children, have ended up as frustrated and hurt as they felt. "Pump up the Volume" may have been relegated to the vault of historical curiosity by YouTube and the like but the message of "The Breakfast Club" is still as relevant as ever; the authority have no more understanding of what truly matters than did their predecessors half a century ago. John Bender is still a hero, and an important one, sold out and put down despite his basic drive to promote the value of the individual experiences that make us people rather than just faceless consumers of - what - manufactured approximations, evolved from misunderstood cultural cues which nobody can quite explain. That's the point; we don't know what it is that makes weed more of a social facilitator than science club. We don't understand fully why the jock and the princess might not get along and have a perfect marriage in the right neighbourhood. We try desperately to marry our intuitive comprehension of academic and social success against the fact that the richest man in the world is a nerd but the British public remain most obsessed with drug addicts and morons with large breasts. We have been so tantalisingly close as to make even that master of emotional torture, Shakespeare, weep with frustration, and yet we refuse to learn from it and move forwards.
Don't you forget about me, sang Jim Kerr as Bender raised his fist in defiance at the end of "The Breakfast Club" but as the sounds of that very song drifted out of the phone tonight all I felt was the intense loneliness of knowing that my home culture has forgotten me entirely.
Fuck this shit, seriously.
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