different standard of decadence
Friday, November 3 2000
After work, Frank and Neil, two of my British colleagues working with me on the UK development team, walked with me back to my house to do a little Friday after-work drinking. We stopped on the way at a little corner grocery on the corner of Wellesley and Santa Monica to buy booze, just because it was on the way. I assumed they had liquor, but all they had (aside from overpriced junk food and personal hygiene items) was beer and wine. It was a little embarrassing to not know whether a store so close to my house actually sold distilled spirits, especially with a group of colleagues who, unlike nearly all Americans acculturated here in our distinctly American Puritanical paradigm, made no apologies about their desire to "get pissed."
So, soon enough, we were all sitting around in my living room with my housemate John, drinking first beer and then moving on to vodkatea. These two British blokes were a decidedly tough crowd to please when it came to mind-altering substances. Alcohol was not nearly enough for their Friday night standard of decadence. "What sort of drugs have you got?" they wanted to know. John and I just looked at each other and shrugged. Neither of us are hooked into any sort of party scene and we don't even smoke pot. But John does get prescription uppers (the sort used to combat attention deficit disorder), and he handed these out to all present. He was delighted and amused that we all ate them immediately without any questions. He'd never hung out with a group of people so instinctively eager to alter their minds. "You've never been to Manchester!" said Neil.
In Britain, we were told, everyone takes lots of drugs. Part of the reason for this is the widespread availability of native hallucinogenic mushrooms (and other native hallucinogenic plants) but part of it comes from the "been there, suffered through that" moral balance with which Europeans view the world. It's hard for the old folks to get worked up about kids taking Ecstasy when they remember their cities being bombed by the Germans.
We had a difficult time keeping Frank and Neil happy with our alcohol and prescription uppers. They wanted to get totally ripped in lots of different simultaneous ways. When it was obvious that John and I had no way of providing that experience, they started asking around for tobacco. But we're such squares, John and I, we don't even smoke. So Frank went out to pick up a pack of Camels.
I soon gave up on my attempts to get them to smoke their fags out on the porch. These are, after all, guys who remember being able to smoke in movie theatres.
Anyway, it turns out that both Frank and Neil had been (or at least claimed to have been) in the very center of the British dance party scene as it evolved, starting with a seminal party in Ibiza, Spain. For his part, Neil had run many highly-successful parties. In the mid-90s, towards the end of a five-year blur, his parties had become so high-profile that they had to be moved offshore, even taking place in a submarine on one occasion. Celebrities were turning up, and a terrible lot of drugs were being taken.
I don't know how much of this was true or exaggerated, especially given how pumped-up Neil was on that one little pill that he'd taken. The guy just wouldn't stop talking, not even to let a patient person get a word in edgewise. At a certain point in the evening, I realized that I'd mentally rehearsed and subsequently forgotten three separate points I'd wanted to make in response to things he had said. But he wouldn't give me a chance to say them.
The one point that I did successfully make during the whole evening was the failure of the object programming model when it comes to simulating human intelligence. My contention is that a relational model is a much better at simulating the complexities possible in a computer where every computational atom (neuron) can possibly communicate with any other computational atom. The "impenetrable membranes" that keep computational objects from leaking data to one another (except through well-defined APIs) are the antithesis of the randomly-interconnected neuron or the multi-table mapping schema of a general-purpose relational database. As usual, Neil had something to say to refute the argument I was making, but his refutation was largely comprised of a list of the qualifications of a very respected AI researcher whom he had met in the dance party scene.
Britain may indeed be far more advanced when it comes to tolerance and casual abuse of drugs, but as a nation, they are still technologically backwards. The fact that we had a DSL-equipped workstation right there in the living room, already set up with Napster and ready to go, was, for them, a taste of the future. It enabled an entirely different sort of socializing. For example, when Frank realized that we didn't have much of the Electronica music that he prefers, he spent most of the rest of the evening downloading and playing it on the computer, serving as a DJ for each little prize at its download thermometer finished up. Simply being able to download your musical preferences from the internet into whatever social situation where you may find yourself - think about it - it enables whole new types of socializing and cultural exposure.
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