Time Travel (2)

The Future is here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.

William Gibson

There’s a second way to look at this. If looking at other places can help us see the future, it can also help us see the past.

One of the things I love about Jakarta is that sometimes it feels like living in Blade Runner (shiny buildings, giant LED screens, life in air conditioned bubbles) and Dickens’ London (dingy alleyways, door-to-door tradesmen, whole families sleeping packed into tiny rooms, pointless death from preventable causes) at the same time.

More on that another time – today I’m interested in how looking ‘back’ can throw our values into sharper relief. I notice:

  • More time, and less rushing – time to pass the day with people. It’s rude to rush.
  • Generosity that’s sometimes hard to get your head around, especially from the poorest. I’ll never forget the generosity of friends who have almost nothing but will give me a snack, a drink, a meal almost every time I visit. I’ve learnt to receive more easily here.
  • People who live so close together often have a better understanding of just how contingent life is. They see more babies born, live and sometimes sleep alongside three or four generations of their family, prepare and bury their own people. Closer to life, closer to death.
  • There’s a DIY ethos here – the men of the neighbourhood butchered their own animals at the feast of the sacrifice. They’re not professionals – but it means a lot more for it.

I hope to come back to this theme – there’s more to say. Each of these values – and others like ‘tradition’, ‘family’, ‘community’ – have their wonderful upsides and their suffocating drawbacks, and we see plenty of both.

Can we keep more of the good parts of our culture as it changes?

Can we reclaim the longed-for things we’ve lost?

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