23/03/09 | Posted by Mark Howe

Thoughts from an airport departure lounge on technological dreams and nightmares

 Marseille Airport departure lounge in the small hours

All around me are familiar faces
Worn out faces, worn out faces
Bright and early for their daily races
Going nowhere, going nowhere

I don’t know about familiar, with the exception of my colleague, but it is to be expected that everyone in a departure lounge looks worn out at 4:30am. We are flying from Marseille to Prague to attend a conference where I’m presenting a technical paper. Departure lounges always tend to be calm, but this morning the only sound is the canned music - mainly jazz cover versions of 80s pop hits. The music plays all day and night, and passes mostly un-noticed, like the heavy breathing of the air conditioning. But in the pre-dawn silence the music moves to the foreground, and the too-smooth arrangement is not enough to take the edge off the lyrics.

And I find it kind of funny
And I find it kind of sad
That the dreams in which I’m dying
Are the best I’ve ever had

Mine is the first generation to live the dream of affordable global travel. Yet the mechanics of doing so can be exhausting, and we know it has consequences for our planet. The Internet puts us in touch with people we would never otherwise meet and provides us with communication possibilities that were sci-fi dreams only a couple of decades ago. Yet that technology pushes us to be “always-on” people, which is why my colleague is checking his mail via wireless broadband.

I find it hard to tell you
Cos I find it hard to take
When people run in circles
It’s a very very
Mad world

In so many ways, life has never been better, but perhaps it has also never been so driven. Where letters demanded a response within a week, emails demand a response within the hour, and Twitter and SMS scream for immediate attention like an over-tired toddler. It is indeed a very very mad world.

But this morning, in this vaulted temple to modern life, the music creates an almost spiritual atmosphere. Where can we hear God in our busy, technologically-driven lives? Maybe, as with the airport music, we need to put the always-on urgency on hold from the time to time. Maybe we would discover that he speaks within and to our culture, as he has done throughout history. And maybe the dreams he gives could help us to survive and prosper in this very very mad world.

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