My Journey of Spiritual Reading

A Reading Update Hidden in an Oscar Rant

Well, I did watch some of the Oscars and I, along with approximately 43.74 million others laughed at the group selfie of A-list celebrities that “broke” twitter.  It was novel and cute and most pundits agree that the Oscars were pretty good this year, because of folksy stuff like that.  This was an Oscar broadcast that really crossed media platforms.  The tweet instantaneously became the most re-tweeted tweet of all time.  I’m sure there are people a lot smarter than me who muse about this being a defining moment for the digital communications revolution, as if there were any doubt about it being at least part of the catalyst for a post-modern world.

What does this have to do with my reading?  It should be noted I forsook a great opportunity to do some deep reading to instead watch the Oscars.  How long is this show?  Hour of agonizing hour, and I admit, I stuck with it for the sheer spectacle of the thing.  I probably could have finished Guns of August which I am really enjoying these days.  Or maybe I could have turned to Unspoken Sermons in which I am trying to read a sermon a week, and failing.  Notice Letters from Prison which sits on my desk mocking me with its bookmark showing that I only have a few pages left, just one good hour or so of reading to finish.  I am enjoying every one of these books, and yet, on Sunday night, I eschewed reading any of them so I could watch an awards show I care very little about celebrating movies I have not seen by people who I do not know for reasons I cannot entirely say.  This is not the first time in history something like this has happened.  Henry David Thoreau questioned the new, modern world of the early 19th century.

“We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.  We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer to the new; but perchance the first news that leak through into the broad flapping American ear will be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.” – from Walden

Of course, Thoreau is talking about the imminent telegraph which will soon meander its way across this great land – drooping line after drooping line – connecting every city with every other city until we are all a part of its web.  Why is Thoreau against the telegraph?  Neil Postman, author of Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, enlightens us.

“Thoreau, as it turned out, was precisely correct.  He grasped that the telegraph would create its own definition of discourse; that it would not only permit but insist  upon a conversation between Maine and Texas; and that it would require the content of that conversation to be different from what Typographic Man was accustomed to.

The telegraph made a three-pronged attack on typography’s definition of discourse, introducing on a large scale irrelevance, impotence, and incoherence.  These demons of discourse were aroused by the fact that telegraphy gave a form of legitimacy to the idea of context-free information; that is, to the idea that the value of information need not be tied to any function it might serve in social and political decision-making and action, but may attach merely to its novelty, interest, and curiosity.  The telegraph made information into a commodity, a “thing” that could be bought and sold irrespective if its uses or meaning.”

The definition of discourse is changing yet again.  What is the internet?  It is the telegraph on super steroids.  If, as Postman posits, the telegraph changed the nature of discourse for the “Typographic Man”, modern communication has pulled him into a dark alley and stabbed him repeatedly until he is no more.  It is here in this new and emerging definition of discourse where I find myself these days struggling to read as a discipline in a world that encourages with every new techno-wonder, context-free reading as commodity.

Perhaps you think I am reacting unfairly?  Maybe I am.   Perhaps you think I am just a lazy reader.  Let me help you with that one, I absolutely am.  But I cannot deny that our modern modes of communication do exactly what Mr. Postman says they do, not only permitting new and novel forms of communication between people and institutions and organizations, but also insisting on them, regardless of whether or not they are in our best interests as an individual or as a society.  Where is the voice that questions whether these wonders are really good for us?  Our world has no problem asking “if” we can do a certain thing, but we do have a problem asking “should” we do a certain thing, and not just in communications, but also in medicine, government, science, entertainment, even church!

But, I am not criticizing anyone but myself.  Sunday night, I didn’t ask if I should watch the Oscars rather than read, I spent a nanosecond wandering if I could.  Then I spent the next four hours of my life watching people congratulate themselves when I could have been reading some very good books.  That’s not on anyone else but me.  I press forward.

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