So I received the latest J&R catalog a few days ago. I never ordered it. I never ordered anything from them. Originally I think they mailed them to a friend and previous roommate who is also a computer geek since he ordered things from them. After he moved out they kept sending them but somehow figured out he'd moved and so started addressing them to the landlord, another roommate at the time and I don't think she ever ordered anything either. And since she's moved out they've started sending them to me instead. I wonder who they'll be addressed to once I move out? So anyways, I received the catalog and for once in a long while decided to read through it. I'm sort of making my way onto the market for computer gadgets and it's been a while since I've looked at the market for them, so it'd be interesting to see what's about.
The first page was pretty standard, standard for computer magazines and standard for J&R— of course the first page is the outside of the catalog so I've seen it every time they've come in. It had a selection of your—these days—common peripherals: webcams, a 7-in-1 memory card reader, some pocket flash-/micro-drives, a DVD editing software package, a selection of toners and papers for printing— y'know, the normal stuff. And it had a section on networking devices—routers, switches, etc—of which most were wireless routers, itself a testament to changing technology and changing home computing environments. It wasn't too long ago that noone would know what a "router" was, noone needed them because they were still using modems and homes had only one computer so "networking" was this strange thing. Nowadays the intricacies of it are still strange, but people know about it and expect it to always be possible, at least whenever there's a geek present to make it happen.
After the first page was when things started to get strange. Still pretty normal by all standards, but somehow... —this was not a world of circuitboards and widgets for the cult culture of hardware hackers, the kids who built and rebuilt their computers from parts. No this was a world of computing for the masses (though an educated masses), a world where personal computing has inundated itself into our lives to a degree even further than I had previously expected. Intentionally, willfully, ignorantly, poor-college-studently I've shielded myself from the growing world of personal computing for the last many-few years. I've known it's happened, but a blind eye was turned when suddenly everyone has cell phones— not "everyone" as it used to be in the years of the dot-com, but everyone, every single one. These days having a cellphone is standard equipment for college students, still kids who can't or don't afford them for themselves, but part of the package that parents send their kids off with to explore that brave new world. A blind eye was turned when the world of personal photography was revived through digital cameras with higher capacity than the analog of old, with higher picture quality than the cheap cameras that superseded their professional analogues in years even before them. Blind an eye was turned when home video recording was revived in digital camcorders, blind an eye when memory cards in all their diversity became standard lingo for owners of any of the devices above.
And then, from there products turned to what you'd expect in some music or home electronic catalog rather than a computing one. DVD players, dvd recorders, audio "receivers", speakers ranging from your normal two to 5.1-channel to 6.1 and 7.1, LCD tvs, plasma tvs, regular old tvs some with built-in dvd players in homage to that early '90s ideal: the combined tv/vcr. Thence to complete audio "systems", portable audio players, headphones, turntables, and the appropriate furniture.
From that foray into home studios and home theatres we then took a turn into a realm both simultaneously bizarre and one that any true geek would love: kitchenware. No I'm not talking about silver- and flatware sets, I'm talking about coffee and espresso makers, cord-free kettles, electric wine chillers, chocolate fountains, and their brethren, not to mention cutlery. All of these not your cheap home-kitchen-appliance variety, but professional quality kitchen appliances, the kind they use in restaurants and cafés. An expression of the geek's desire for trinkets that express the full nature of technology, even if perhaps they aren't what some might call "necessary". What may seem ironic to some is that most of the geeks I've known, and so I surmise most geeks in general, are quite interested in the kitchen and cooking. Perhaps it's because that's where caffeine comes from, perhaps because that's where they adjourn to when they break from their computers and games.
Or perhaps there's something more to it. In addition to their more noticed traits of intelligence, computing prowess, and social peculiarities there's something else, something perhaps ineffable about them. Geeks have an interest in life and discovery that others tend to lack, and part of that interest in life is focused on lives past. Renaissance Faires in general—not to mention the SCA—are filled with geeks; roleplaying, that quintessential geeky pastime, focuses not only on futuristic games with all their fun gadgets but also on games in the past, mediaeval and similar societies. I dunno, that seems somehow relevant. Gamers tend to take an interest in some of the simpler pleasures in life—food, drink, clothes—and focus on them the same obsessive care that they do in their more traditionally known fields.
And this is where things began to come together for me. Before even they got into PDAs and GPS units, telephones, multi-function printer/scanner/fax/copiers, window unit airconditioners, electric razors and other personal care electronics. This is where they began to fit. Computers—perhaps not their full expression but at least all their periphery: cameras, speakers, music players, video displays, routers, and their ilk—have truly inculcated the home and so, life. More complex and varied, but no stranger nor more uncommon than other household electronics and, as computerization and cross-networking continues, becoming ever less distinguishable. Even the line between electronic and mechanical is ever blurring, ever becoming less precise and less meaningful.
Then something truly strange occurred, not in the magazine, but in myself. All of a sudden, in the dim weekend's early morning light, on a slow and lazy day, music languidly flowing through the room enveloping it, I wanted them and the life they promised: a life settled, as a home owner perhaps single and raucously living the bachelors life, perhaps newly wed young and in love—not the powerful and passionate love of youth, so unbalanced and unpredictable, but the calm love of those making a home to live in together—, a life with a job in a career at a company I'd like to advance in where I'm not worried about loosing the job. It was, in retrospect from the moment having passed, nothing short of terrifying. Not because I couldn't imagine myself living such a life, not because I wouldn't enjoy such a life or wouldn't or don't want one, but because... because why? I don't know, maybe because it's so different from the life I live now, a life I'll shortly be exiting when I move. Or maybe because it's a life I fear I'll never have or be able to.