Cullen Murphy has written a fascinating article in the February 2020 issue of The Atlantic titled Before Zuckerberg, Gutenberg. It is about how successive waves of innovation were spurred by the introduction of the printing press. Some of the innovation and disruption we experience today are related to these earlier waves, even though digital technology is a new phenomenon. “… we no longer register the impact of the printing press because we have no easy way to retrieve the ambient sensation of “before,” just as we can’t retrieve, and can barely imagine, what life was like when only scattered licks of flame could pierce the darkness of night.”
It is a short read but packed with interesting details about connections between disruptions. A favorite: “More books and rising literacy created an eyeglass industry, which in turn brought advances in lens-making, which ultimately made possible the telescope and spelled the end of biblical cosmology.”
As human species continues its march to a future we really cannot know, I appreciate the cultural mapmakers like Cullen who think about these matters.
Do you get this guy’s emails? He writes (a lot) about the music industry, politics, his observations of life in general. I often agree with his point of view, and I admire his prolific output. This from today’s letter, about the Democratic debates in South Carolina last night:
This election is about hope.
I am utterly astounded that the media and most of those running, never mind the consultants, just don’t get this. They believe this is a game, a known quantity, and he or she with the most experience and expertise wins.
But they are wrong. A tsunami has already wiped out that game, but the people with the most money and the most power are somehow unaware of this.
His site is here; you can sign up for his letter here.
Because the second one – the second cookie, the second cup, the second scoop – can never be as good as that first one.
I am realizing that living life to the fullest doesn’t mean that you will be able to live the perfect magazine life you were dreaming of, or make up the life you want … it just means that it is possible to live fully within the set of circumstances life throws at you.
Well, this article certainly sums it up. Your future is yours to create until suddenly it isn’t anymore. The reader comments on this article were particularly interesting to me..
” … the aging of America demands serious reconsideration of the way we live. Confronting the issue and its many implications, from Medicare’s failure to cover long-term care to the ethics of physician-assisted dying, requires what seems to be the most difficult task for human beings — thinking about the future.”
The people I know now live in rural America. They aren’t who you think they are.
The people I know now think it self-evident that everyone’s water should be clean. It is obvious to them that everyone who needs medical attention should have access to it. They accept that mental balance and self esteem can be hard to come by, and those who will say the truth out loud are precious. They fight against the big foreign company stealing water at a bottling plant, and against the small fracking company that dumped chemicals on a road near their well. They have old cars, or none at all. They call the bus and wait. They are often between jobs, and always needing a higher-paying one. They seek dignity as they learn to live in the world after an addiction or time in prison. If they can, they grow their own food, and eat healthier than most in America. They don’t write a check for $50 or $100 easily, if at all. They don’t shop on-line as a hobby, and their clothes might be worn. The internet coverage out here is slow or non-existent. Few have big screen televisions and they still play their music off CD’s. I haven’t seen many new iPhones out here.
The people I know now inspire me as they matter-of-factly go about daily challenges that cause me to whine about life’s unfairness. I think about the inner resilience my privilege has earned for me (or not). I compare them to the corporate ghosts I knew in my past life: executives living on chemical-cesspool golf courses, drinking their way through long trips away from home; sales people making piles of money but filled with self loathing; leaders wanting to win, more than wanting to do right. Everyone striving for bigger cars and more stuff. No one willing, or able, to name a principle they believed in, much less take a stand for it.
The people I know now read, draw, cook, sculpt, think, listen for the owls and the coyotes at night, and talk quietly among friends. They protest, march, and speak up. They take care of their land, their animals, and one another as the earth slips slowly from solstice to equinox.
I came to this rural life a cynic. The people I know now are slowly turning me optimistic.
I have been wanting to write about intention. By this I mean a life by design, not accident; a life in which you actively choose where to put your attention, your money, your time. Annie Dillard notes:
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.”
For me, working meant built-in purpose, a schedule, a routine. My days were interesting and full and fun. I rarely had to choose – I could spend indiscriminately, I could multi-task, and I believed I was doing it all. I was the embodiment of “more.”
Annie Dillard also wrote:
“There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life.”
It is that life of the spirit I grapple with now that I do not have a built in schedule. Without work to distract me, I can see clearly the culture’s drive to commoditize the human spirit. I stand apart and observe how we deftly we are pulled into the life of sensation – though our increasingly intelligent devices, targeted advertising, food and medical options presented through traditional venues. “More” and “faster” are the dictates of this drive.
I also observe more people now who are choosing to live an intentional life. They are opting to live less expensively, to do without or to live in a rural environment, so that they can be free from work earlier in their lives. I’m not sure if these folks have always been there and I didn’t know them, or if this is becoming a movement. In any event, as I get further from the noise and drama of working life, I see more options than ever before. Options for good days and a good life.
I really enjoy watching the You Tube contributions of Dr. Sarah King, PT, DPT, who is a Parkinson’s physical therapist (and owner of Invigorate Physical Therapy and Wellness). She wrote a letter called Things I Wish I Could Have Told You the Day You Were Diagnosed with Parkinson’s – the letter is here; the video here. I recommend it for everyone – it could have been written for anyone recently diagnosed with “aging.”
To believe we are not broken, that a future is still ours to create, and that we can get where we want to go with small changes applied with urgency is important for everyone.