American Consequences - January 2018



Big cities had so many different daily newspapers that there weren’t enough plucky young newsboys shouting “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” to sell them all. Sometimes the newspapers had to double up on the plucky young newsboys and have them shout, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Twice!” Working men discussed James Joyce in pubs. One workingman would say to another, “Now yer Finnegans Wake , like, it goes takin’ the form of discontinuous dream-narrative is wot oi sez.” And the other workingman would reply, “Too right, mate. An’ oi sez it blends yer English lexical items with yer neologistic multilingual puns.” True, early in that golden age people didn’t always know good reading and writing from bad reading and writing. Sometimes they’d get off on the wrong track and read Das Kapital or Mein Kampf . But by the 1950s, everybody was reading Peyton Place and it seemed as if we were headed into a world of well-informed and clearly-reasoning citizens. (Unless the Commie Russians dropped the complete works of Dostoyevsky on us and we were all destroyed.) Then the computer arrived and mankind’s long journey up from mental darkness came to an abrupt halt. Even in the 1960s era of punch cards we had quit looking things up in books and started to “ask the computer.” The computers of the day, of course, had very modest computational capacities and could only answer “0” or “1,” but that was enough. You can see what computers did to our minds in the well- informed and clearly-reasoned plan for a Vietnam War: Vietnam 1, USA 0.

Computers instantly reduced our attention spans to less than instant. I know that for a fact. I Googled it. Will something new and wonderful arise from the digital revolution to replace the masterpieces of print media? We can hardly count ourselves human without the aesthetic and intellectual feelings brought forth by Shakespeare when he wrote... To be, or not to be? That is the question – Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune Or to take arms against a sea of troubles... Those feelings will always be with us. Except now they’ll look like this:

52 January 2018

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