"Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around."
- G.K. Chesterton
Whenever I find myself discussing new technology with someone under 30, I take a cranky pleasure in reminding the young wizards that I never even owned my first typewriter until graduate school in 1979. And that, I crow, was a manual. I then wait for their wows and bewildered expressions.
But this isn't the start of a Luddite screed—I love all the new stuff.
And I marvel that I have owned and more or less know how to use desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. It's a matter of great pride that I've made such leaps from my lumbering metallic brown Smith-Corona.
Especially when I consider that I'm the same person that used that typewriter to press out such heady theses as "The Temporal and the Ephemeral in the Poetry of François Villon" and "The Theory of Happiness in 18th Century French Literature: From Chance to Method." (Love those colon-rich titles.)
Nope. Now I spend most of my time behind a gentle tapboard that puffs easily edited words and letters on a screen, mostly about less serious (but far more useful) topics and trades. Only those who've set and lined up paper on an inky typewriter roller then hammered out words at painfully low velocity can appreciate the miracle. I hold no nostalgia for the keyed metal box.
But I'm still a creature of a certain time, place, and formation. And much of the technological whirlwind leaves me uneasy. Especially when it comes to the young. This most connected class of people in history seems to be irrevocably disconnecting from its own cultural and intellectual memory.
Real item 1: At a restaurant recently, my wife and I watched as two large groups of high schoolers took their seats for what clearly was a fancy, formal dinner party. But instead of, as expected, launching into youthful palaver, they immediately pulled out gadgets and began texting, tweeting and twitching. Just weird. About 40 youths in all, and all self-occupied.
Do they have any idea that conversation was, not so long ago, considered an art to be learned and practiced?
Real item 2: My twin thirteen-year-old nephews grousing about being forced to read certain fiction when they could find and watch the video. And since they would never be interested in reading anything that hadn't or wouldn't make it to film, it becomes circular non-logic.
I try to stress the importance of classics. But who, among a certain age group, cares about ancient people? They sure don't.
Meanwhile, Facebook and other social media blurt every detail of endless hosts of private lives to the edge of the spheres. As someone said, never have so many unlived lives been so gratuitously chronicled.
It does no good to hector others. To explain that our forebears, through non-tech media such as books, music, the arts, rhetoric, philosophy, religion, history, revealed important things that still matter.
Or that reading a novel not only enriches the mind but actually can open up new brain circuitry through the imaging process that's put to work. Watching videos is passive. Reading is active.
And what's to become of language within a lexicon of LOL? Could a generation raised on this ever love the transcendent worth of, say, the words of a 15th century French poet?
So, sign me up for the latest gadgetry. But I'm too much of a relic to join the gadget culture.