Postcards from the Edge of the Internet

At the start of this week I was thrown a curve ball and caught on the hop, the careless mixing of the metaphors alone left me conjuring up an image of one of baseball’s more surreal moments. I was totally unprepared when I was asked, at very short notice, to cover the “Global Citizenship” class for a few weeks. Although it’s a subject that I’ve never taught before, I would be teaching it to a class of grade twelve students that I have taught English to for the previous three years, because of this I had no qualms about covering the class until a replacement teacher could be found.

Having had no time to plan a lesson, or for preparing any materials, my plan had to be formulated during the ten-minute motorcycle journey to work. I decided that the first week we would have a debate, and I allowed the students to decide the topic from a choice of three:

  1. Is there a difference between being a global citizen and a citizen of your own country?
  2. Is technology causing us to become less human?
  3. Does the freedom of speech mean that all opinions should be respected equally?

The students narrowed it down to between numbers two and three, which pleased me as these were the two questions that I had given the time and effort to thinking of on my way to work, the third one being someone else’s idea that I had taken the time and effort to steal off of the internet.

Eventually, the students decided that they would discuss the topic of whether technology was causing people to become less human. From initial conversations, it became apparent that the students’ opinion was split evenly between those who felt technology was causing us to become less human and those who felt that it wasn’t. As I allowed the students to research and prepare their arguments, I casually circulated around the room in an awkward manner that only a 40-year-old male with little self-awareness can. As I listened to their conversations with one another I couldn’t help but get involved. What became apparent very quickly to me was how at ease both groups were with the role that they allowed technology to play in their lives. Most students felt that conversations over a webcam lacked none of the intimacy of a conversation conducted face to face. A number of students expressed the idea that they actually felt less awkward communicating through digital formats, whether it be text messaging, emails, chat-rooms, or webcams. After a short amount of time, both groups had discussed the proposition and despite the fact that they were meant to be preparing for a debate, they had  concluded that progress is good, or at least that progress is inevitable so you might as well enjoy it, and that technology is inextricably linked to  progress and therefore it too must be good. The arguments of both groups had run aground on a sandbar of technological apathy. It occurred to me that these students experience the world almost as much through technology, as they do through any of their other senses. To them discussing the benefits of technology was akin to discussing the benefits of using your eyes. It appeared to me that technology had almost become an extension of their senses, and debating whether it’s beneficial was, to the students, redundant. When I asked them whether a conversation over a webcam had less value than a face to face discussion, they looked at me in a way that was at first confused, but then gave way to sympathy as they realized how the teacher was “so old, and just doesn’t get it”. When at last they were able to comprehend the meaning of what I had just asked them, they just casually responded that there were no advantages to having conversations face to face and that a webcam is perfectly capable of capturing the essence of communication, maybe even of what it means to be human. I looked disbelievingly at them and asked for clarification, which they provided for me by rolling their eyes and returning my look of disbelief wrapped up in an air of unhealthy cynicism.

It started to become obvious to me that the teacher and the student were looking at the same issue from two totally different perspectives. Being forty years old, I had seen computers evolve from machines that had struggled to do anything more advanced than the most basic mathematical calculations. This had left me cautious and skeptical as to their ability to replace, or even enhance, the fundamental requirements necessary for meaningful human communication. These students, however, expressed no reservations about embracing any technology into their daily routine, trusting that its benefits will always outweigh any problems it might create.  Because after all, technology is progress and progress is good.

I was starting to feel my age, and so, as I withdrew from their conversations I started to understand how alienated my lack of faith in technology had left me, how much the world had moved on during the time I’d spent researching Japanese pornography.

filmeditor vomit the exorcist possessed exorcist
A metaphor of what it feels like when one of your students answers a question with an unexpected and inappropriate response.

Technology Failures

Back in the early nineties, I was a teenager struggling with my sense of identity. I had a low self-esteem and I was trying desperately to figure out who I was. I was insecure and unsure of my place, my purpose and my reason for being in the world. In short, it was a challenging time. Some would have called it teenage angst, others might have seen it as an existential crisis,  when in all reality it was probably nothing more than just good old fashioned puberty.Image result for clippy gif

The world was moving quickly, the dawn of the digital age and the personal computer was upon us. As a student, I was told that my ability to get a job, to fend for myself, to provide for my family, would be inextricably linked to my ability to use a computer. Failure to adapt to the computer revolution would result in my becoming a technological pariah, pushed to the fringes of society and laughed at. While I could understand the potential of computers and the role that they would inevitably go on to play in society, my predisposition for self-loathing wasn’t helped by the fact that somebody, somewhere, had decided that the public would be more likely to accept the digital revolution, if it was presented to them through the medium of talking pieces of inanimate office stationary. Struggling to appreciate your sense of self-worth becomes infinitely more challenging once you start taking advice from a narcissistic paperclip that talked down to you. I was never that scared of using computers, I was open to the idea, and could even see the benefits of using them to complete my school work. What I did become affraid of was being second-guessed by a paperclip with all the personality of sundried fart, and the agenda of a dogmatic demagogue. Who can ever forget the irritatingly malevolent, froideur bastard Clippy?clippy A character dreamt up by the twisted mind of a perverse, failed software engineer, somewhere in rainy Seatle, entombed deep in the bowels of Microsoft. The instant I would start to type something Clippy would appear in my field of vision at some sinisterly oblique angle, questioning me as to what my purpose was, whether my intentions were aligned to that of the software. Clippy went about his job with the sort of enthusiasm and zeal of a Nazi on his first day at work, guarding a concentration camp.

What made Clippy particularly malevolent was how his abhorrent personality had been disguised by the form of a doe-eyed paperclip. His appearance succeeded in fooling many of my friends, but I knew a bastard when I saw one. And so it was that I embarked upon several years of psychological warfare with a talking paperclip, and just when I appeared to be getting the upper hand Clippy called in the reinforcements.

Image result for microsoft office assistant merlinImage result for microsoft office assistant catImage result for microsoft office assistant einstein

Admittedly Clippy had at least gone to the trouble of enlisting the help of sentient beings to undermine my fragile confidence, but there was something not quite right about the fact that I’d gone from taking the advice of a paperclip to taking advice from the twentieth century’s foremost physicist Einstein over a relatively brief period of time. Inevitably this led me to question the likelihood of Einstein not just having a talking paperclip as a colleague, but also a talking cat and a pagan wizard. All this ended up doing was for me to develop a heightened suspicion towards any of Einstein’s theories.

Nearly thirty years on and the memory of Clippy lingers and can still be the cause of a restless night’s sleep, so enduring has been the pernicious nature of the damage he wrought upon my fragile psyche. The confidence of a thirteen-year-old boy can’t be expected to wrestle with both Oedipus and Clippy in some kind of bizarre, Freudian tag team at a morally corrupt Wrestlemania, whilst a fanatical crowd bays for the youth to be emasculated by random pieces of office stationery.

At the beginning of the 1990’s computers were being used by students more and more for school work. For example, all Business Studies projects had to be submitted after being typed up on a word processor. Today that seems like no big deal, but you have to remember what the ‘technology’ was like back then, what with the continuous feed printer paper with the tear off holes down the side. In essence, it was little different than handing your ideas in on a piece of high tech toilet paper.Image result for continuous feed printer paper I remember my parents bought me a word processing program for my computer, the Commodore Amiga. Now the Amiga was primarily a computer for playing games, and using it to produce academic work would today be comparable to trying to do your accounts on a Sony Playstation. Of course, the neo-Luddites in society did their usual thing and claimed that spell check would destroy people’s ability to spell, leaving society as nothing Image result for neo ludditesmore than a severely dyslexic, gibbering mess. Of course ten years earlier they had been shouting and screaming similar things about how the calculator would render us incapable of performing even the most simple mental arithmetic ever again. If history has been able to tell us one thing, it’s that those who try and stand in the way of progress run a high risk of ending up looking like a complete arse.

Generally speaking, the track record of man to predict the impact that a technology will have on society in the future has often at best been hit and miss. Take for example Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, who completely failed to grasp the full potential his invention had to change the world when he said:

“One day there will be a telephone in every major city in the USA”


Fear, Loathing and Losing The Ashes in Bangkok
Twenty-two professional sportsmen battle it out for over a month hoping to win one of sport’s least impressive looking trophies. It’s the sort of competition that could have only been invented by an Englishman.

It was a Wednesday morning and I was enjoying my vacation. I was lounging around in my underpants, trying to read one of Poe’s onerous, preponderous and turgid short stories in they style that only Poe could write them,  thank god, because if all writing was like Poe’s then being illiterate wouldn’t be considered such a bad thing.

My phone rang, my ear was quickly bombarded by the staccato speech that produced words like a Gatling gun produces bullets. It was a call from my Filipino attorney, he had landed in Bangkok and he was urgently in need of a visa for Viet Nam, five kilos of northern Thai coffee, and a good place to watch cricket. He knew that all I was good for was only the coffee, although I was determined to offer my expertise on the visa front as well. The cricket match started tomorrow at five in the evening, we were to meet at a bar in downtown Bangkok where  we could watch men play an esoteric sport, and where we could formulate and discuss the sorts of ideas that flew in the face of convention and common decency.

It had all gotten too much for me, my attorney had reenacted scenes from a host of West End shows while the Ambassador appeared to be intensely negotiating the release of hostages that had been captured rebel Guatemalan communists. Reality had long ago been subsumed by a reckless acceptance of the twisted and the perverse. We had gone too far now, too much had been said to turn back, only one thing was certain, the evening could only get worse from here on in.

Although having lived in Thailand for over a decade I could never be described as one who appreciates the benefits of travel.  In this time I have been to Bangkok only a handful of times, and have only been to the beach twice. Instead I’m much more comfortable making cups of tea and reading books, but here I was, being presented with an opportunity for mindless, reckless and irresponsible behaviour in one of the most sin ridden cities in the world. I knew my attorney had lived quite a life for the ten years he had spent in Bangkok, and that he would have the geographical sagacity and social connections to facilitate a unique happening. I was also well aware that my attorney had never caught on to the notion espoused by some former drug users that you can get a lot higher without drugs than with them. And neither have I, for that matter.

Mitchell Johnson loping up to bowl, a head full of bad intentions, resembling something like Herman Munster the morning after a meth binge, snarling, hostile, a complete bastard if you happened to be standing at the other end of the wicket.

We arrived at a bar just off Sukhumvit Road, the attorney was immediately halloed enthusiastically by a number of weary, middle aged looking men sat around a table. Salutations, hugs, swearing, and insults  were suitably exchanged, followed by more swearing and insults. Once these formalities had been completed to everyone’s satisfaction, the Filipino introduced me to his associates which initiated another volley of insults and swearing.

It had always been our objective to watch the cricket, but from the moment we arrived people seemed seemed to be shuttling themselves with a nervy sense of alacrity back and forth to the toilet. Not that the cricket required much concentration, the Australian batsmen were disposing the English bowlers to the four corners of the ground (no mean task given that they play on an oval).

Over time an inverse relationship was developing between the number of runs being scored by the Australian batsmen and the number of people remaining round the table. With the Australian batsmen accumulating the sort of score that would cause a theoretical mathematician to have a wet dream, only three of us remained around the table. The Filipino myself and a Joe Pesci type of character who made frequent references to the activities and workings of the Australian Embassy. I had no idea of the role Mr. Pesci played for the embassy or if indeed he even worked there, but after a while my fascination with his employment status was replaced by the entertainment being afforded to me by my attorney and Mr. Pesci. They were involved in an intense discussion bout movies, and plays, going from one to another using a sequence of weak, sometimes spurious connections. Mr. Pesci would call out the the title of a play or a movie and this would inspire the Filipino to act out scenes from that said entertainment. In a twenty minute spell, I had been treated to the Filipino acting out a scene from some Australian play about an election, followed more ambitiously by playing the part of Brian Denehy playing the part of Willie Lomax in Death of a Salesman, but this was nothing as for his finale he finished with an inspiring scene from Gandhi. It was at this moment that I realized that those two were riding the crest of a wave I hadn’t quite caught, the wave quickly took them shorewards and I knew that I would have to go quickly looking for my surf board in the toilet if I was going to have any hope of staying in touch with them. There we sat for the rest of the night, staring out to sea, looking to catch our waves. Suddenly someone would catch a wave and begin to rant incoherently, with no reason or rationale, then fall off and sit back down on his surf board waiting for his next thought to sweep him along and hopefully wash him up upon the shores of sanity.

This was no state for a respectable man to find himself in, and what had exactly happened to us during the previous three hours is hard to say, I remember noticing that it was two in the morning and saying “I feel light headed, I could do with a walk.” After having probably settled the bills the Filipino and I walked off into the night, the lights of Bangkok reflected in or vapid, dilated eyes, and enhancing our distant, vacant grins.

By the time we had realigned our perspective of things  it was approaching three in the morning. I had to be at the airport for seven, and my expensive hotel room had become little more than a luxury locker within which my bag was stored. At some point during our bacchanalian rampage along the fetid and depraved streets of Bangkok ill luck and poor decision making led me to act on an ill advised impulse, I took the opportunity to go shopping for ladies underwear. It may have been as a result of us being constantly harassed by the gnarled, wizened harpies that were perched on bar stools, casting the dice of fate one last time for the night, hoping for one more customer that would help them to pay their electric bill, or their meth dealer. In an unspoken flash of benevolence I decided the only moral thing to do was to help these ladies. With both of us being married purchasing the professional services they were used to offering was clearly out of the question, and I couldn’t just give them cash that would be demeaning, these girls after all had their dignity.  So it was obvious that a fair and above board transaction needed to take place between us if I was to help these girls. It was then, in a moment of blinding inspiration that I declared my intent to buy the underpants of any girl willing to sell them. For a moment there was quiet, the bar girls clearly didn’t understand the terms of business I was trying to conduct, whilst my attorney struck dumb, was now struggling to understand anything. In my poorest drunken Thai I made myself understood to the harpies who quickly became excited and scuttled back into the dark recesses of the bars from which they had originally crawled out of. The Filipino was still very unsure as to what had just happened, whilst standing there dazed and slack jawed a barely dressed bar girl closely showed to him a pair of very cheap, trampy, string like underpants, and started shouting that she would take 500 baht for them. She was quickly joined by four, five, six other bar girls proudly brandishing underwear aloft in the air, as if it were their national flag. It quickly became apparent to me that due to the over supply of the desired product this had quickly become a buyers market. “So you’ll take 500” turning to another pant wielding freak “would you sell for 400?”, the girl nodded enthusiastically, ” so she’s selling for 400, put up your pants if you’ll sell for 300″. A sea of hands, arms and underpants crashed over us. In only a couple of minutes we’d purchased several pairs of underwear at an average cost per unit of around 100 baht, but more importantly we’d helped these people out and managed to retain our dignity.

Cartoon Character with Underwear on Head --- Image by © Sabet Brands/Corbis
Having purchased pieces of clothing the Filipino would be damned if he wasn’t going to wear them.

With our new found sense of self respect we decided that we were hungry and didn’t give a rat’s ass about what we should eat. This is a particularly cavalier   philosophy to adopt towards food at 3 a.m. in Bangkok, one that could well result in the aforementioned rat’s ass being the main ingredient in what we were about to consume. We found some street vendor that agreed to sell us something that might be protein on a layer of rice, covered in a shiny, gelatinous sauce.

By now the Filipino had decided that it was the right time and place to wear the procured g-string about his person, more precisely on his head. In the grand scheme of what else was going on about us this didn’t appear to me to be too ridiculous.  The Filipino and I sat ourselves down on plastic stools amidst an ocean of Johns and their hookers for the night. Indeed, it was at moments like this that it can be difficult to have faith in the essential decency of the white man’s culture. Obviously Bangkok isn’t the white man’s culture, but by the looks of it he was definitely acclimating himself successfully into this environment. If there was anywhere on Earth that I was expecting people to be liberal minded, it was here. This would surely be the last place for those with pious, conservative values to frequent. Why should any of these swine care about a man wearing panties on his head?

We both sat there, wiped out from the excesses of the past ten hours, both of us questioning why we had ordered food, why we were here? A stocky, meat head of a man walked past my shoulder and stopped opposite the Filipino. All I could see was the back of what appeared to be an unusually muscled man. There was something in the tone of his voice and the fact that he’d walked with purpose up to the Filipino that alerted my  suspicions. I looked up and the man was speaking with an air of hostility, very closely to my attorneys face. He then pulled something out from behind his back and held it very close to the right eye of the bewildered Filipino. The man put what ever it was behind his back again, mumbled some more incomprehensible words and once again held something very closely to the Filipino’s right eye. The poor bastard didn’t have any idea what was happening, for starters the object was being held far to close for they eye of any man who had been drinking for the last ten hours to focus on, and secondly the gusset of the g string he wore on his head obstructed his view.  The implement was once again hidden behind his back. Hidden is not altogether an accurate word owing to the fact that the stranger had his back to me, I could therefore clearly see that he had been holding a fork to the Filipino’s face. Without thinking and with very undramatic ease I disarmed the stranger, who seemed equally astonished by my powers. The meat head now focused his attention on me, but strangely I appeared to have earned his respect when confiscating his fork. English appeared not to be his first language and he was even drunker than we were, but after listening to him for a couple of minutes it appeared that the Filipino wearing ladies underwear on his head was a cause of great moral discomfort to the man. Still holding onto the fork I tried to remonstrate that his sensitivities seemed a little out of place given his surroundings, and that inserting a fork into the eye of the Filipino was the wrong way to go about expressing his feelings. Now this man was huge, I could have been armed with all the forks in Bangkok, but it would have made no difference should this ape had decided to get nasty. Surprisingly since losing his fork he became relatively personable and entered into something of a debate about whether the wearing of a g-string on a persons head was acceptable behaviour. I pursued my angle that most of the behaviour of anyone after dark in this city was questionable, and conceded that in an ideal world my attorney wouldn’t be wearing a pair of lady’s underwear about his head . We chatted for perhaps quarter of an hour, in which time he told us he was a mixed martial artist from Brazil, why he lost all his aggression after being dispossessed of his spoon shall remain one of life’s great mysteries. One thing was clear to both the Filipino and I, and that us having procured so many pairs of lady’s underwear had somehow caused great cognitive and moral dissonance in the mind of the Brazilian. With us all still in possession of the desired number of eye balls, the Filipino agreed to be more discreet with the array of panties he had about his person, and took them from his head. The Brazilian now seemed happy that our behaviour was more respectful and he slunk his way back to the prostitute we was with for the night.

We had obviously sparked something off in the sensibilities of the Brazilian. Whether it had all started for him long ago as a boy in some ill advised rummaging through his grandmother’s underwear draw, we would never know.

We decided that we had done our best for the night, we were sure that we had touched the lives of those around us, and that those people would now be able to see the world a little differently.

My phone rang only a few hours later, it seemed like my attorney saw no sense in delaying the inevitable and that the common sense dictated that we were to pick up where we had barely left off a few hours ago. I had to admit that there was some form of logic to what he was proposing, perhaps more importantly I was in no state to argue reason with this man. He wasn’t waiting for me to reply to his suggestion, instead he’d seamlessly moved the conversation onto Imelda Marcos’s shoe collection. All I could do was agree to meet the fool in thirty minutes at the bar beside the hotel’s swimming pool.

We were refused alcohol on the basis that it was still only 9 in the morning. The set back was simply too much for the to endure, at first the Filipino didn’t take the news with good grace and as he stood on the bar stool he ranted incoherently about fascism, liberty and the licensing laws. With the nuances of his argument going largely unheeded, he climbed down asked where the nearest toilet was, then he went to straighten himself out. For the next ten minutes I lived in fear, I had no idea what would be coming back out to meet me. One thing was clear though, we were both nearing the frontier where reason and decency gave way to sustained periods of introspection and inevitable self loathing. This thing needed to be turned around quickly or it would end up as one of those stories you read about in the Bangkok Post, “Dead Expats Found in Bangkok Hotel Room – choked to death by under a mountain of cheap lingerie.”

I waited, and after half an hour I became worried, then paranoid, and then I felt the fear. What was that sick bastard doing in there? More Bangkok Post headlines ran through my paralyzed mind. I broke out in a conspicuous sweat, and without realizing it I was speaking out loud to myself. The next five minutes passed like hours, slowly I began to accept that I would have to go and investigate.

I let myself slip off the edge of the bar stool. The combination of toxins from last night, mixed with the heat, and now this situation, resulted in sweat cascading down my face. It was hard not to look suspicious under such circumstances, people looked at me in disgust and with contempt, this is how people normally look at me but I didn’t have the fortitude to deal with it this morning. I quickened my pace, almost running by the time I got to the toilet.

I pushed the door open and entered. It was quiet, I looked in all the stalls preparing myself to find him with his trousers round his ankles clutching his chest, but nothing. I was elated not to be dealing with a corpse right now, but then started to worry where he was, “he’s somebody else’s problem now” I thought. As I was about to leave the toilet I saw on a cubicle door, a sign that had been defaced. I will never know for sure if it was the Filipino (o.k that’s a little too dramatic I could just ask him), but it had the air of paranoia about it to suggest it was.toilet-writing-toilet-graffiti-people-following-paranoid


There he goes. One of God’s own prototypes. Some kind of high powered mutant that the Lord never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.





Gonzo symbol