When Fools Rush In

Reading in the Age of Constant Distraction



I read this article by Ms Staid, written on an article or ideas expressed by a Sven Birkerts, he of The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age.   And I thought, has it all come to this?  Are writers of essays just too lazy to do the research for their subject?  Has it become the rage to howl at electronic media as if it were born yesterday and now we are noticing its effects?  Go to YouTube and find

Howard Beale: Turn off your TVs


Here, I’ve made it easy for you.  Paddy Chayefsky’s character from his film play, Network, also known as Network 76.  This film was made in 1976 and foretells the coming of our internat age.  Yes, we did not know what the internet would become back then.  Hell, we didn’t even know that there would be personal computers in such wide use, let alone be connected in such a manner as to allow instant communication anytime during the day or night.  True, one could have obtained a TRS 2000 (Tandy Radio Shack) 8-bit personal computer and for a few dollars more a modem to use over telephone voice lines to connect to local bulletin boards.  But inflation was greatly on the rise and the cost of this personal luxury was pricey and besides, most people, including teenagers were still looking to play Pong and other very simple computer generated games.  But watch the film clip, watch Chayefsky nail, as precipitously as was possible then, our cultural degeneration.  Watch the movie.  Hell, make it an annual April 1st even in your household if nothing else but to remind you the difference between what is reality and what is drivel driven cultural crap.

So go to your windows and stick your head out and yell: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to subscribe to Twitter any more!”  Turn you smart phones off and cancel your accounts, stop paying corporatist brainsuckers to such all your intelligence out of your brains and inset banal drivel and a longing to spend more and more so that your pathetic desperation to be someone is never answered.  You think that a bit harsh?  I don’t have a cell phone.  Yet when I recently flew on an airline the company wanted me to have the experience of checking in easily by downloading an app for a n electronic boarding pass.  They told me it was for my convenience.  Tell me again, why is it convenient for me to spend a hundred dollars a month just so I can download an electronic boarding pass?  I can see the convenience for the airline company, reduced headcount and saves them salaries and benefits.  But now I am paying for the company’s convenience if I get my self a smart phone (costs a hundred or so) and service (another hundred or so each month).  Where was Ms Staid’s analysis on this portion of cultural degradation?

But to talk about the passivity of reading Tweeter, of being tied twenty four by seven, three hundred and sixty five days a year to an electronic device that we feel we cannot put down, cannot ignore, lest we miss some text or inane comment, and to do this in front of others, with whom we are suppose to be giving our attention, well, what can one say?  Is that the future of Western Civilization, the great leap in divided attention, the great adherence to that myth of multitasking personal and impersonal relationships, all the while feeling technologically superior to third wold inhabitants  because they have neither the infrastructure nor the bad manners to want to use such devices?  No, we re worried that we may be giving only passive attention and learning too little from such encounters.  So what will the Paris Review teach us?  What important revelation will Ms Staid impart to our collective wisdom?  Electronic media is okay but read more books?  This sounds more like cultural as usual, except we fail to understand just what as usual means.


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