Expectation is the measure of what we hold as normal. I had hoped that my new digital dictaphone would be a convenient way to jot down ideas when I was ankle deep in metal chips. If I’d had the patience to wade through the 500 or so features that I didn’t need, to find the few that I did (ie. record, play, repeat etc.) it might have been a useful tool. As it is, I’m back to dry erase pens and a clumsy white board that is never there when I want it. When a new technology falls below its promise, we mourn something we never had in the first place. I am seriously considering a transcription program to turn spoken words into script on the computer. But that would probably be just another complicated nightmare. Perhaps if I wore the white board around my neck on a string. I don’t think that would be overly offensive to my sense of normalcy.

In static cultures where the simplest innovations may take generations, or happen not at all, the sense of what is normal overwhelms the need for change. Egyptian art rendered the human image in a highly stylized form that remained unchanged for over three thousand years. It was emblematic of a culture based on an agricultural technology utterly reliant on the regular rise and fall of the Nile. Their expectation of that cycle bred a dependency fearful of change. There was no need for them to develop the printing press, let alone digital dictaphones or other bothersome distractions. Their attitude is not surprising as any changes they would need to make were tied to cycles far longer than a human lifetime. If the patterns of the past are stable, then our expectations are not threatened, and change for its own sake becomes mere frivolity. If the patterns of the past become unstable, then our threatened expectations force change. The rub always lies in our ability to recognize a changing pattern when we are in the midst of it. Clearly my failure to embrace modern recording technology was going to make the white board necklace a reality.

In a sense we are victims of our own addiction to drama. It seems deeply ironic that it often takes a war, or the threat of losing a war, to spur innovation. Relabeling public policy issues with the appellation “war” is a feeble attempt to harness the power latent in our ability to recognize change. The War on Drugs, The War on Poverty, The War on Terror, they all seek to elevate our response out of the ordinary. If they work, we crowd around them like brave warriors gripped only by the fear that others will not also jump at the chance to bring about a better world. Our sense of business as usual becomes as fluid as the vanishing futures we had hoped for. Expectations change. In desperation we either plunge into reactionary versions of my mutating white board, or we learn how to use the dictaphone. Where did I put that instruction manual anyway?

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