The White Album

On the border, the hazy chirping of birds of a lazy Sunday morning, I lay here trying not to wake up too fast. And in that delicious world of memories old and newly created, I was back in Cambridge in my friend’s back yard listening to him talk to his friend James Taylor. I knew James’ sister from school, but only knew of him. Now, in that tween world, I realize he was on his way or just back from the White Album.

In 1968 the Beatles returned from India to a brand new world of possibilities, including for the first time the seeds of their breakup. Their manager was dead, the inmates building the asylum called Apple, and the flow of new songs sending the group into simultaneous sessions that overwhelmed Abbey Road and spilled out into other studios around London.

In those heady days, the Beatles had block booked so much studio time that they couldn’t use. Taylor, newly signed to the Apple label by his producer and manager (and head of the record label) Peter Asher, was the beneficiary of the already paid for session time, which they used to record his first record. The explosion of White Album material even carried over to the Beatles’ final record, as George Harrison borrowed the first line, Something in the way she moves, for his own song.

For some time now I’ve been trying to put my finger on what’s going on in today’s social world that’s so impossibly possible. In the dream world of Sunday morning it hits me, or I it. A series of parallel universes, sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground. The magic of the intersection of technology and human aspiration. The sad beauty of reaching for the unattainable and in the process finding something perhaps unexpected but perfect all the same.

We complain about information glut, about not wanting to know what we had for breakfast, about the need for filters to staunch the flow of too-short factoids and too-long tirades. But step back and let the dream back in, and you see this possible world of tunnels across time and space, the bits dancing across the wireless landscape like some Harry Potter ride down secret passageways of our own construction. A GarageBand for our work, for forgetting the filters and algorithms and finding the people of our graphs instead.

Think about it, not too hard so as to dispel the illusion, but just enough to let it flower. We can:

Create networks that span the Globe over free wifi
Stream music and pages up to the big screen as we exercise
Send live video around the world or privately for a small group
Drag and drop documents, songs, images, ideas, links, alerts, and conversation
Cuddle with our children across the oceans
Rally around an idea or elect a president or build a hospital or nurture our friends
Live some part of our dreams or invent new ones

There’s plenty of room for pessimism, misuse, lost opportunity, stupid legislation, gossip, and just about every kind of useless time wasting except for All My Children. This isn’t some hippy daydream on the road to Altamont though. Just watch as Amazon relentlessly rolls over the bricks and mortars, how Black Friday has become Black EveryDay, why Superman can’t find a phone booth to change in.

No, you see the strong survive, the passionate find what only they first saw as the obvious, like Dennis Crowley staring down Facebook with an insouciant confidence in the small and validated by Google throwing away Dodgeball. Like Twitter stubbornly becoming the very thing they said was never going to happen: the worldwide news bus. So much going on that it’s impossible to muzzle, except at the last second when you literally have to cut off the stream itself and signal capitulation.

You see it in the children, who use video chat to maintain friendships across the chasm of middle school and job changes and time zones. Imagine what impact this has on their lives, to be able to retain the village it takes to nurture our hopes and possibilities. Our teenaged daughter has already prepared us for our new e-nester life, texting us from her bedroom downstairs to say goodnight. Today, downstairs; tomorrow, from New York.

I can’t talk about the miraculous film Hugo without giving it away, but the way it enters the field of dreams and lives there resonates with the world of the White Album. To call it a film is of course ironic, given it was created in digital 3D. An homage to the earliest days of Melies and the birth of cinema, it quickly becomes something more where the 3D effects illustrate how the technology is only there to escape the boundaries of the frame. At once old fashioned and deeply futuristic, Mother Superior jumps the gun.

Finally, the dream state yields to the urgency of breakfast, of playing with puppies, of getting a jump start on the work week. Time to complain of no time, tethered to our time machines in pieces on the ground. Someone complained in an @mention about something missing in this week’s Gillmor Gang. How it used to be better. He might be right, so I followed him. Now he’s beginning to show up in News.Me and Flipboard. Now it’s up to him to help fix it. Take these broken wings and learn to fly.