By David Robert Lewis
When this story broke ten years after the first wave of zippiemania, I wasn't surprised that Zippies had managed to dump rave culture in favour of 24/7 computer jobs in Bangalore, India. The very same reason Wired dumped the Zippies to begin with on fears that advertisors would reject talk about outright drug-taking, all-night dancing and spiritual hedonism has now mutated into a gripping tale about the joys of outsourcing.
Indeed, digital citizens and commentators like myself, were simply brushed aside in the rush to claim Zippiedom on behalf of aging hippies, high-tech financiers, club promoters and baby-boomers upstaging young kids in America who may now be a little older and bemused by the events taking place in India. Time has a wonderful way of concentrating the mind and distilling the issues. The focus is clearly now on a wider stage, and the bottom-line is globalisation and its impact both on the media and the future of work in the digital economy.
Which is why recent postings like Erich Bridges "India's young tech-savvy 'Zippies' want it all, but what they really need is Jesus Christ" carried by the Baptist Post News, Dec 9, 2004 and other websites is something of a godsend, excuse the pun. I'm not much of a Jesus Freak, but when usually orthodox Hindus give-up their traditions in favour of capitalist excess and consumerist lifestyles, I wonder if the world isn't losing out on something? This was the kind of thought I expressed in several postings to Outlook India and various websites last year.
Are we losing something curious and unique by ignoring for instance, the Zen Paganism that characterised the earlier incarnations of the term originally coined by Tom Forcade and emboyed with frenetic new meaning by counter-culture provocateur Fraser Clark? Outlook has paradoxically redefined Zippies without any regard for these earlier precursors, and sees "zip*pie n . informal (pl. zippies) (zippie*dom n.)" as "a young city or suburban resident, between 15 and 25 years of age, with a zip in the stride. Belongs to Generation Z. Can be male or female, studying or working. Oozes attitude, ambition and aspiration. Cool, confident and creative. Seeks challenges, loves risks and shuns fear. Succeeds Generation X and Generation Y, but carries the social, political, economic, cultural or ideological baggage of neither. Personal and professional life marked by vim, vigour and vitality (origin: Indian)"
Which is not to say Clarks definition is any better, according the "Columbus of Rave Culture" and former "editor of Encyclopedia Psychedelica (EPi)", the magazine that first identified the "hippies with zip," a zippie is "someone who has balanced their hemispheres to achieve a fusion of the technological and the spiritual. The techno-person understands that rationality, organization, long-term planning, consistency and single-mindedness are necessary to achieve anything solid on the material level. The hippie understands that vision, individuality, spontaneity, flexibility and open-mindedness are crucial to realize anything on the spiritual scale."
When it comes to spiritual things, however, many Zippies are living on bread and water counters the Baptist Church and Erich Bridges, whose admittedly partisan story has created a wave of evangelicalism targetting no less a global market than India's Zippies, who "just like many 'multi-tasking' Americans." are struggling to come to terms with their identity in a rapidly changing world, in which workers are easily exploited and professionals fast becomming obsolete.
"Shift times change frequently. Pressure mounts. Competition stalks. Even all-important family ties are fraying," he says, arguing that "Indian parents traditionally exert huge influence on their adult children's decisions -- education, career, marriage. That still applies to the Zippies. But the challenges and temptations of city life can be overwhelming -- particularly for someone from a village family experiencing freedom and disposable income for the first time. Young men start looking for thrills. Young women trade modest saris for tight jeans."
Which nevertheless is all good news for the original band of 15 or so Zippies left out of the loop by a hungry media incapable of decoding Jules Marshall's often incoherent techno-rant about "a new and rapidly spreading cultural virus ripping through the British Isles. The symptoms (of those infected) include attacks of optimism, strong feelings of community, and lowered stress levels." The focus on rave culture and the "Pronoia Tour" at the time, and "the strange belief that people are conspiring behind your back to help you", in the cover story carried by Wired Magazine, tended to obscure and overshadow the much bigger story about the rise of a new kind of individual, and a sub-culture that would eventually inhabit the global village, breaking down borders and living in the much feted "death of distance" as the internet imploded our conceptions of space and time.
Surely it is not too late to organise a conference or seminar on such eminent and pressing themes as these? Aside from the economic implications, there are the spiritual side-effects of a movement which seems to encapsulate what Mark Dery calls "laissez-faire futurism and New Age eschatology", which accordingly litters public discourse about culture and technology. Like Dery, I would prefer to take back the future from the technocratic elite and refocus discussion on the de-skilled and unskilled drowned out by Alvin Toffler's Third Wave.
In South Africa we have an enormous gap between rich and poor and while a digital divide still exists, it is not altogether clear whether total integration into the world economy is at all desirable, if possible. What do we lose eventually in terms of culture and meaning? Does spirituality necessarily coincide with poverty and what does wealth mean for religion? Will new subcultures emerge, quite different from today's Zippies? If anybody out there is getting the message and is tired of endless repetition as the media continues to disengage -- allowing only one sided debates that ignore the realities of a world wide audience, then please contact me at the address below. Conversations happen, not merely in nanoseconds, and with short-term attention deficit disorder in mind but with intelligence and over the span of decades and even centuries,
PO Box 4398, Cape Town 8000 South Africa
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