Books and the love of them

I basically only read books that are over 2,000 years old.–Hans-Georg Gadamer, German philosopher

While I won't go so far as Gadamer did, I do wonder sometimes not only about what has been written during the last two millennia, but about what we've learned. The last century, in particular, has seen the proliferation of all kinds of knowledge. Our Western-American way of life, for the most part, is a product of the last fifty years. Take a day and carefully note what you do that would have been impossible five, ten, twenty, fifty years ago.

The first thing I did this morning was switch off the digital alarm clock/CD player by my hotel bed. CDs have been in existence only about 25 years, and they've only become ubiquitous in the last fifteen. My dad still has one of the first affordable digital wristwatches, purchased in 1971. The clock had that wonderful luminous LCD face, which in theory is just over a hundred years old. In practicality, LCD was developed in the late 60s.

I drove to work on the 285 expressway, which was completed in 1969 and has been heavily reconstructed. I used a desktop computer with a CPU that has been in existence less than five years, and software that was developed in the last ten. The Internet is a central part of what I do, and I check my e-mail right away. The Internet as we know it is less than fifteen years old. I use an IE shell at work (less than five); Explorer made its way into homes as part of Windows 95 (built on the MOSAIC browser, developed in 1990).

It's only eight a.m., and I won't go into my cellphone (one-sixth the size of my first mobile phone–purchased in 1995) or my Bluetooth earpiece (Bluetooth started 1999).

Strange, isn't it? We watch sentimentally movies about life a hundred years ago (one of my favorites is Legends of the Fall) and don't realize how stranded we would feel if we found ourselves at home with the Ludlows. Heck, I feel stranded at the beach house we sometimes share with my family in the summer. No Web, no cell service, etc.–yet.

But the future promises ubiquitous computing. It's a bright future, according to some, a utopia where we'll always be connected. Movies never seem to capture this; after all, dystopia is sexier (think Blade Runner, Minority Report, and above all, The Matrix saga). Books don't either (if you go in for it, the SF series Otherland by Tad Williams is superb). Sure, there are positives in these movies, but they all rather ominously point to the danger of knowledge. Or at least of one kind of knowledge, since all three of the above-mentioned movies celebrate self-knowledge of one sort or another. When we really know ourselves, they say, and our capabilities, then the world will be a bright shining place and humanity will succeed in bringing about the utopia (which, as Agent Smith points out, we'd probably reject like a bad transplant) we've always sought. When we seek to know things, they further say, we stupify (and stupefy) ourselves as human beings.

All right, enough of that. Comment if you like, even if just to say hi.

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One thought on “Books and the love of them”

  1. Hi! 🙂

    Seriously, this might be my all-time favorite post. Having just spent a month in a country much, much older than ours, things that stand the test of time are on my mind. I visited Nimes, which is about halfway between Spain and Italy. It was on the main Roman Road between those two countries and there are Roman ruins all over the city. I say ruins, but many of them still stand proudly…the Coliseum, a few temples, the Roman baths. I was so awe-struck by the *age* of those ruins. If we could flash-forward 2,000 years, what of America will still be left standing?

    It’s almost like there’s no value placed on building things that will last. We’re so spoiled in thinking that the next big thing will come along in a few years and render the last big thing obsolete. So what’s the point in making something last, right?

    Okay, enough. I could go on, but this seems like the kind of thing to actually talk about, not just type endlessly…

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