Analogue or digital? Metric or Imperial? A crossroads of a different kind.

I might be the product of a certain generation. Well, I suppose we all are, to some degree. One of my areas of study has been the impact of demographics on clinical work. So before the detractors get too excited, I know that stereotypes of generations are just that, broad brush strokes to help marketers (mainly) make sense of economic trends.

Demographics

That said, where do I fall? It depends on who you read. I’m a year or two too young to be a boomer. (But I behave like one apparently, at least in terms of work and spending.) I might be a Gen X, but in the first year or two of the cohort (meaning that I don’t really identify with the anomie that David Coupland wrote of, describing the X.) So maybe apart from owing a Cheryl Crow CD or two, maybe I am in the X. And yes, I am definitely not a Millennial (too old) nor am I an iGen, or Gen Z… also too old, and let’s face it, them kids are weird.

I think, at least for a Canadian, I might be best described as a ‘crossroads’ generation. I once read (and have been searching ever since for the reference… alas Evernote thou hast failed me) that there is a small gap between Boomer and X, and a tiny cohort, roughly 1965-1968, represents a void (in relative numbers) before the ‘bust’ and ‘echo’ waves really kick in. I’d love to coin the phrase “crossroads generation” (let me hashtag that just in case; #crossroadsgeneration ) but maybe the better identifier is this: analogue vs digital. Or in a Canadian sense, metric vs Imperial.

Metric vs Imperial

In the late 1970s, Canada switched to the metric system. I was in grade school at the time, doing poorly in math as it was. Along comes a switch in units, one that honestly I don’t really remember. It seems that gas prices are a big marker for this shift and I was not yet driving. The price of gas (in litres) really only became salient to me at around $0.49/l in the mid 1980s when I started to have to fuel my own adventures.

Here’s the thing. I view height in feet and inches but small lengths in centimeters. Distance is always kilometers but I refer to the many miles I’ve traveled. (Okay, distance is really understood in terms of time, but that’s a prairie thing. “How far to Edmonton?” “Oh about 5 and a half hours, 5 if you push it.” Distance is time. The rate is always understood to be a constant, 10% above the posted limit., sometimes more…) Weight, pounds. Measures, teaspoons, cups, et al. Area, acres (well, sections really, this *is* Alberta). Milk and pop and booze, litres and millilitres, and I suppose if I were honest, “shots”, which are ounces.) In short, my personal filters for measurement are divided between two systems and I seem to function just fine.

Analogue vs Digital

I just went to the grocery store with a paper list. I have an app. “Our Groceries”. My lovely wife loads up the list, and gods willing, it syncs, and when I go to the store, I am to come home with all the things. Not just my preferred stash of Halloween candy and Greek yogurt with the caramel and chocolate chunks in it. I made it through the trip without a hitch. Got everything on the list. My wife was with me, so that solved the never-seems-to-sync-in-time list items.

I sit in meetings (on the phone a lot – see “Anywheres” in the next section…) and I write in a notebook (a Moleskine, for those diary fetishists, with a 4-colour Bic, the pinnacle of French invention.) Right now, I am typing this post on a Pixelbook. One that could take handwriting if I was so inclined. And there’s the divide again. Digital or analogue? Sure there are many solutions for writing digitally (I still own my Apple Newton, and it still works 25 years on). But there is something about writing, pen on paper, that meets some pre-metric need in my soul.

Travel? I use my phone’s GPS. But I bring a sheet map as well. Especially for Jeep-conveyed back-country jaunts. An old 1979 vintage topo map from Mines and Surveys, with height in 100 foot bands (not those crazy 90 meter bands of the metric editions.) Something about seeing the really big picture and not only the next turn. Analogue guides digital.

Research, large projects, data… I know it all “should” be purely digital (and in the gosh darned cloud too ya know) but my master’s thesis was typed on a Corona electric typewriter. My doctoral thesis, on a computer, but from hand-transcribed interviews and cue cards to sort themes in the data. Analogue. Digital.

Stephen Harper??

Very recently, I read an excerpt from Stephen Harper’s new book. In it, he was trying to explain Trump’s victory (and every other right-of-centre new leader). He, in my opinion, over-simplified the story with two kinds of people, “Anywheres” and “Somewheres”.

The Anywhere was someone who essentially lived a global existence – traveled the world, had a job that allowed them to live and work anywhere (he did name professors as one group), and who – in his opinion – took advantage of the passport of their issuing country, while skimming the freedom of the rules of any other country that suited them. Don’t like Canada’s rules for your industry? Open a factory in Malaysia. But keep your Canadian passport because it offers more freedom than others might.

Meanwhile, the Somewheres were those that grew up in a place, near their parents, kids going to the same schools as their parents, working and living in a small sphere with the occasional jaunt to Mexico for vacation. Of course Steve suggested that these people were the salt of the earth (he didn’t really say that but he did suggest that good solid conservative values came from this source, those same values that have made Canada great, or some such thing.) An thus an over-simplified dichotomy, of which he has a clear preference.

I read this thinking that once again, in these splits, I find myself a blend of the two. Not so bad as Donny and Marie once were  (“I’m a little bit country, I’m a little bit rock and roll…”) but I live the life of an Anywhere while physically existing as a Somewhere. Explain that, Steve!

Maybe it’s just another case of analogue vs digital. Metric vs Imperial. The weird blessing that lets the #crossroadgeneration function in their flexible and unique way.

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