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Scott Brown Leads a Guided Tour of the Most Awesome Depression Ever

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Old 01-12-2009
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Scott Brown Leads a Guided Tour of the Most Awesome Depression Ever
Another Great Depression! Hardly are those words out when vast images straight out of Walker Evans trouble my sight: Hoboes! Okies! Hoovervilles! Women who resemble Harry Dean Stanton! It's all so very... 75 years ago. Our go-to icons of abject, debilitating American poverty are so nostalgic, so sentimental, so analog. Our recurrent national nightmare deserves an upgrade. Let's face it: Flat broke and rattling a mug full of pencils, we'll still be the same wiki-addicted, diversion-craving exhibitionists we are now. Of course, I'm no futurist. Just a hysteria-prone pessimist. But I don't want to live through another Great Depression. I want to experience the Awesome Depression: classic destitution with a whole new interface. I believe the Children of the Petabyte are perfectly capable of reviving classic Depression-era pastimes—train-hopping, bread-lining—while making them uniquely our own. So climb aboard as I, your neo-hobo guide, unfold a day in the life of the future unfortunate.
It's a typical morning in 2011: I start my day by bumming a few joules off a pal's bicycle generator to power up my BlackBerry and surf over to FoodTube, where starving viewers like myself salivate over clips of the "carbo-rati" noshing on hoarded snacks. (I try not to read the comments: "omg she is such a ho for eating that Combo!" "shup azz! u go girl! eat dat Combo!") One stray click and I'm rickrolled, prankishly diverted to the now-familiar footage of Rick Astley being devoured by a pack of London cannibals.
I decide to use my remaining juice to log onto Facebook, which has been looking frightfully gaunt since the Identity Panic of '09. (Friends? Who can afford friends now anyway?) Millions of "Favorite Albert Brooks Movies" lists and "Hero Abilities" requests were decimated, and we were left scrambling for whatever chums were left on Orkut. (This was before the Linden dollar crashed and Second Life avatars started jumping out of windows—and not flying.) I'd check my email, but browser-based email is a thing of the past: Vagabond freeconomic refugees now communicate by personal ad, and sex acts are routinely traded for, say, maki rolls and Pilates classes. (Craigslist, it turns out, is largely unaffected by the Awesome Depression.)
Dejected, I head downtown, a busted Guitar Hero ax slung over my shoulder. On the corner, a pack of surly former programmers dressed in surplus CES hoodies are warming their carpals around a single dingy Dell. I give them a wide berth. Farther on, a ramshackle Cubeville has sprung up in the parking lot of a burned-out Ikea. Delirious drones sit at cardboard desks and pretend they still have office jobs to complain about, tapping out "IMs" on their "keyboards"—old pizza boxes.
I nod and push on. I'm hoping for a handout at the Bloggers Assistance Administration. Alas, when I arrive at the decaying loft space, the cupboard is bare: The BAA can't keep up with the sheer numbers of jobless Americans whose only skill is chronicling the minutiae of their own lives. (At least when they whine about how existentially awful their lives are now, it's probably true.)
I sink into a trashed Aeron chair, pull out my trusty ax, and click out "In the Great Big Google Mountain," a rueful utopian ditty about a fanciful wonderworld in which "aquacultured catfish feed the masses," and "electric cars cut greenhouses gasses," and "more transparent global markets function semi-rational-la-la-la-ly." The song brings tears to my eyes. Sure, it could be from drinking far too much bathtub Red Bull. Or maybe I'm weeping because this guitar is just so awesomely depressing to play when it's not actually hooked up to an Xbox.
Email scott_brown@wired.com.



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