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We're living in the Age of the Aspie

Forget about naming the modern age after anything we've invented, or blown up or claimed for our own. Until we colonise Mars, the most defining thing about our modern age is the nature of humanity's relationships within itself. And that is why I'm renaming our times as The Age of the Aspie.

In days gone by, in the Western World, stiff manners seemed to be everything. No matter what you did behind closed doors, you had to greet people in the right way and present yourself as an upstanding member of society.

It was all about being seen to do the right thing. You had to be polite, hold down a steady job (or look after the home). Everyone knew their place and that place was unlikely to change, even if you made more money or became a success in other ways.

Even when you move into the more modern, outwardly permissive, undoubtedly socially-mobile era, there were still expectations of how people would behave. Society as a whole had guidelines and it was your choice if you lived within or without them.

As time moved on towards our present day, computers flourished and seemed to become part of everyone's life, whether they wanted them or not. Here, just here, with the mouse being connected to the computer, came the emergence of the aspie as a force in everyday life.

I don't mean the mass release of computer geeks all over the world, a naturalisation process hampered only by the uneven divide between the sexes. I don't even mean the way the internet took over everything, suddenly, while no one was looking, aided and abetted by aspies everywhere.

While many aspies have found their calling in the world of computers and technology, I want to point to a lesser-noticed but very important change in society at large.

Once you have a look at the way things have changed, the manners, the expectations, basically everything that makes up society and communication in the modern world, I think it is now an aspie world.

It doesn't matter if you are on the spectrum, your communications are likely to be mechanical at times, disjointed, governed by the expectation that all information shared will be in a format suitable for email, Facebook, Twitter or video blog.

If you used to call Aunty Mabel to ask about her bad arm, you're now likely to text her instead and hope the old dear can use her other arm to text you back. Heaven forsake the unlucky friend or relative who is unwilling to embrace this new technology. They'll find themselves wondering why the phone is so quiet these days, even while they receive those annoying beeps on the mobile Betty or Joe got them for Christmas.

Anyone who shuns the modern world and doesn't imbibe of Facebook, email or (I hesitate to type it) doesn't go online, will find they still end up talking about these things with the vast majority of people. They'll try to talk about what they read in the newspaper and be given the kind of look reserved for the Penny Farthing as it rolls down the street. Or there might be a confused moment where the other person asks, 'You mean the TImes online?'

The modern world is all about instant information, instant reaction, everyone talking about the same things at the same time, or lots of different things with the same people. It is an aspie paradise, full of information to be shared with other enthusiasts and it doesn't ever matter how much you know, there will be a website where you can find out more.

In real life, face to face, aspies will always have their troubles, but thanks to the instantaneous nature of the modern world, non-aspies will no longer think it strange if their aspie talks about internet download speed or mentions the latest videos on Reddit. Aspies can talk about these things, more or less safe in the knowledge that the recipient of the conversation will have at least heard of them and probably won't think it's an odd thing to know about.

Conversations themselves are truncated in the modern world, as we rush off to our destinations, mobile phone in hand. People we see on the street, who speak when we meet, are as likely to be Facebook friends as ones we actually know. In fact, it's a relief to see a Facebook friend because having seen their face on screen so many times, we are left in no doubt about who they are and how we relate to them.

Emotions, so rarely displayed in public in the past and such a bugbear for aspies in real life, are now paraded with a whole carnival of dancing butterflies down the main street of online communication. If an aspie is in doubt about how someone is feeling, they can check up on their status, see which pictures they have shared or send them a fun quiz and find out that way.

What was once hidden within, is now there for all to see and, best of all, written down so that aspies can read it and know what people mean. How strange that if you meet someone in real life and ask how they are, they tell you they're fine, but expect you to know if they're not. Online, they tell you everything, whether you want to know it or not and we lucky aspies are not left guessing or trying to work out if we've given the wrong reaction.

And one of the best things of all, readers, is the delay. In real life, if someone speaks to you and asks you a question, or wants a reaction, it all has to happen now. In this one important regard the modern world has slowed things down. When people talk to you online, there is a delay, either while you write back to them or while you pretend to not be online while you formulate a response.

So many times I've been caught out by the need for an instant reaction, or simply by the look on my face. Online communications, with their in-built delay, are the best advancement in communication our world has ever seen. How many arguments have been avoided by people having time to think of the right thing to say instead of the truth?

Yes, I know there are many drawbacks to this modern world and techno-communication. But I tell you, hand on heart, the vast majority of those drawbacks belong to non-aspies. In the aspie world, as well as mostly loving technology, we also love the aspie-spin that has been blended into communication and life in general.

Now, if I get confused, I can Google for the answers. If someone insults me, I can pause before letting fly. If I get a strange email, I can forward it to three different people and have it explained to me. I can look people up, find out what they mean, see what they're feeling today and know them as deeply as is comfortable for me.

And the best thing, yes, the very best thing? Meeting all the other people online who feel the same way and who are willing to consider what we have, with the internet spread out between us, as a proper friendship. The aspie has never been so lucky or so popular as in this modern world, where every day people complain about being displaced and alone.

Readers, until now, it is the aspies who have been displaced and alone. Thanks to the unmanageable speed of modern life, we can now slow down and enjoy the ride. This is what it means to belong.


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