Last I saw the Word
midst cold and
[This brief musing was written in the late 1990s—still true though, and truer and truer by the day, in fact—bracketed inserts are from 2019]
As our country loses more and more of the cognitive foundation that made her great, and as the computer and advertising industries plumb ever deeper for the lowest common denominator of whatever remains, the Word steadily loses out to the Picture. Beauty loses out to the Car Chase.
Silence to Noise.
Television marches on with her eighty or one hundred sixty or five hundred plus channels of imaginative [and not particularly entertaining] garbage; and radio, once the great mystique, finds itself reduced to a thousand like stations of ceaseless banal rhythms and grating commercials.
If a computer program does not have a Graphical User Interface (GUI) it is, for all intents and purposes, outmoded if not antique [this is true, today, of course]; and if it does not provide entertainment as part of the package—it must be interesting, provide diversion, be cool; not simply be effective and functional—it won't sell. A sad case in point is the demise of WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS (a brilliantly functional word processor, and quite possibly the best piece of software ever written [remember, this program was written for and ran amazingly well in 512K RAM, compared to today’s programs which as a rule require one thousand times that amount of memory, with 16GB of RAM today the rule rather than the exception] now virtually vanished under the onslaught of Mr. GUI.
As an aside, the WordPerfect Corporation tried to defend it at the time and developed WordPerfect 6.0 for DOS, a GUI version which slowed the program down by orders of magnitude, made it less functional and required expensive new hardware. Brilliant. All to meet the increasing demand of the read-nots.
Webwards, if the Page is not imaginatively designed, eye catching and aesthetic, it is a failure no matter how valuable the content [this emphasis added today].
Presentation, appearance, color, design is everything. Meaning is fading. What is actually said, not really that important. How does it LOOK? is what matters.
And all for show. All Facade to make up for the missing Word, to replace the waning ability of our population to read and comprehend.
I can hardly think of a more rewarding pleasure than to read a great novel or short story. As you read, you comprehend and you create. You are a co-creator; you do something when you read (or when you listen—radio theater still holds that mystique for me). You come out refreshed, in a way accomplished.
Where TV and (often) movies spoon-feed you with violence, etc., reading asks you to participate: as you read you create the bridge, the forest, the kiss, the sky for your mind’s eye to see and ear to hear. And so, it’s your bridge, your forest, your kiss, your sky.
In my view, the fortunes that are being spent to reach and cater to the lowest common denominator (amoebas of the Dollar Ocean) would be much better spent on raising the ability of our children and populace to read and comprehend.
To me, the [1990s’] Internet is still looking for somewhere to go (other than pornography, which is already in full swing). All we currently can say for sure is that wherever it is heading, it has to get there in style, with flash and with as many moving icons and exploding little images as possible to grab and perhaps even hold our attention for more than 3 seconds.
Few things are less rewarding than violence and laugh tracks rammed down your perceptive channels by incessant TV images. Someone said that it takes more effort and awareness to eat than what it takes to watch TV. Yes, I believe that. Yet, it is a national epidemic. Well-documented and well-known at that, and as condoned, if not promoted, by the powers that be as are personal debt and obesity.
And my question is this: At what point will this lead to the burning of books? At what point will reading become an ability frowned upon as off-putting, as strange, then snobbish, then cultish, then outlawed? When will the persecution of those that read begin? When the burning?
[Recently, in 2019, I read that “reading” (as in reading online content) is now for all practical purpose redefined to actually mean scanning while reading a book is now known as “deep reading.” I can hear George Orwell spinning in his grave from here.]
Or has it already begun? There are fewer and fewer libraries as local funding disappears. Library hours are curtailed, fewer new books, fewer new patrons.
Of course, the computer is a wonderful thing; the telecommunication marvel is a blessing; the Internet spans the globe and removes virtually all distances and can be the greatest vehicle yet for the Word. Yes, it can be the most wonderful communication tool the planet has yet to see, as long as the Word is not lost and replaced by the meaningless image, by inane form, by empty facade.
As long as it does not lead to the burning of books.