Saturday, September 10, 2011

When is today?

Most of us has seen a movie or read a book in which, for at least a short period of time, a character isn't sure "when" they are. Maybe they have just awoken from a coma or perhaps they are conducting a trial of their new time machine. The protagonist should avoid grabbing strangers on the street and demanding "what is the name of the President of the United States?" unless they want to spend the next few days undergoing a psych assessment. So, what should our protagonist do find out when (and perhaps where) they are?

Often our brave, if somewhat confused, protagonist will grab a newspaper to check out the date. This strategy may work if you are on the street of a large city but what if you have landed on a quiet street in what appears to be a suburb? What if you woke up in your own home but were not sure how many (if any) years had passed?

This is a game you can play yourself. Next time you are driving home look around and ask yourself "what in this picture would locate us in time?" [1] Some of the things that jump out at me when we play that game are: almost no television antennas, almost every house has a small satellite dish and all the electrical lines and cables are buried.

And the recycle boxes.

In our community the recycling boxes are emptied on a once every two week schedule. You can tell easily tell which part of the city is due for pickup because every single house in that area will have at least one blue box out by the curb.

If that wasn't enough to tell you that we are no longer in the 1980s or 1990s or even 2000s you can check out the recycling and garbage booklet delivered twice yearly to each home in the community (and available online -- another clue to the year.)

The indications of just how much things have changed in the last few decades begin as soon as you open up the booklet and look at the first set of instructions where in addition to the explanation of what type of beverage cartons can be recycled there is a picture of a collection of acceptable items. The picture of a generic dairy milk container would have been included in a brochure printed two decades ago anywhere in Canada. The inclusion of a picture of a carton of soy milk in a brochure designed for a small city and rural community in southern Ontario is an indication of "how things have changed."

The next page includes the reminder not to place your garbage bags and recycling containers where they would impede wheelchairs, walkers or strollers and the suggestion that those who do not compost should offer organic wastes to neighbours who do or start community gardening projects.

There is a separate section dealing only with "e-waste" which includes an explanation of what makes electronic waste so environmentally dangerous and a list of places that will accept old electronic/computer equipment free of charge. The municipality holds an annual hazardous waste event so that people can (again at no cost) get rid of batteries, aerosol cans, medications, pesticides and other materials that shouldn't end up in landfills. A website has been set up where one can enter the type of hazardous material and one's postal code and get information about which stores/depots accept what type of hazardous waste throughout the year.

So, one good measure of exactly when and where we are is the neighbourhood garbage booklet. Where I live every effort is being made to discourage people from buying more than they can use and from throwing out materials that can be reused or recycled while at the same time every effort is being made to keep hazardous materials out of the landfills. I live in a time when even in semi-rural communities and small cities people own a wide variety of electronic equipment and eat and drink food only a few Canadians had encountered just a few decades ago.

I know I am not the only person who has occasional "I am living in the future" moments. I grew up reading science fiction, watching science fiction and hearing predictions about the world to come. When I look around my room I hardly notice that we have multiple computers, a flat-screen television set and 24-hour a day access to the internet. I also take for granted that I live in a community whether discussions of sustainability and protection of the environment is as routine at city council meetings as discussions of road repair and property taxes.

Living in the future isn't just about what we can buy it is also about what we throw out and how we do that.

[1] Since I live in a community that prides itself on the number and excellence of its 'classic' cars on some blocks you cannot safely determine the year by looking at the cars.

1 comment:

  1. I installed a computer lab full of Commodore 64's into an elementary school in 1983 and newspaper stories were written about the event. (The 2 terabyte drive next to my laptop has 15 million times the memory of a Commodore 64).

    Most classrooms now have Smartboards and eReaders - and also recycle bins and wheelchair access doorways and no peanuts at all. Walking into a school might also provide clues about when you are.

    The Kidd.


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