Friday, October 9, 2015

Elizabeth Gaskell writes about Twitter

I am an old woman now, and things are very different to what they were in my youth. Then we, who travelled, travelled in coaches, carrying six inside, and making a two days' journey out of what people now go over in a couple of hours with a whizz and a flash, and a screaming whistle, enough to deafen one. Then letters came in but three times a week: indeed, in some places in Scotland where I have stayed when I was a girl, the post came in but once a month;--but letters were letters then; and we made great prizes of them, and read them and studied them like books. Now the post comes rattling in twice a day, bringing short jerky notes, some without beginning or end, but just a little sharp sentence, which well-bred folks would think too abrupt to be spoken. Well, well! they may all be improvements,--I dare say they are; but you will never meet with a Lady Ludlow in these days.
from My Lady Ludlow, 1858

16 comments:

  1. my boss used to say: "the more things change, the more they stay the same."

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  2. George Gissing (New Grub Street), about people and social media:
    "I would have the paper address itself to the quarter-educated; that is to say, the great new generation that is being turned out by the Board schools, the young men and women who can just read, but are incapable of sustained attention. People of this kind want something to occupy them in trains and on ‘buses and trams. As a rule they care for no newspapers except the Sunday ones; what they want is the lightest and frothiest of chit-chatty information—bits of stories, bits of description, bits of scandal, bits of jokes, bits of statistics, bits of foolery. Am I not right? Everything must be very short, two inches at the utmost; their attention can’t sustain itself beyond two inches. Even chat is too solid for them: they want chit-chat."

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    1. chit-chat as a lesser form of chat; that's great stuff. All of that about bits remains true, and is why I had to give up Facebook.

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    2. i dunno... generalizations make me uneasy. i was working on an oil rig once and started talking to one of the more poorly paid hands, at the bottom of the ladder as it were, and after a modicum of repartee, discovered that he had a doctorate in sociology; had all the arcane knowledge and fluency at his fingertips. so, i thought, every person is a universe unto themselves, and rarely do two universes mesh and previous assumptions can be unaccurate and/or erroneous...

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  3. i think humans communicate on established levels and it becomes habitual; but many of the participators may have private or unplumbed depths, nicht wahr?

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    1. I'm going to confess that I understand the idea of "communication" less well as I get older. I've written a load of novels, and have had the luxury--since none but the least of them has been published--of revisiting the texts over the years and thinking about how and why and what I write, especially the why, and I keep coming to the idea that there is no point to it, and that whatever I or anyone says is at best an approximation of the mental activity the words are meant to represent, and that even were language able to accurately represent our mental activity, there would be little loss if most of that was never actually expressed. John Cage's "I have nothing to say and I am saying it," in other words. So maybe Twitter and Facebook are fine, or must be fine, since so many are drawn to it. This is much more cynical that I mean it to be: I don't know about communication, you know. It's not my area of expertise. But surely most people are smarter in real life than they appear to be on Facebook.

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    2. I may be misreading you or misreading Cage, but, given his interest in Zen, couldn't "I have nothing to say and I am saying it" be understood as a mission statement of joyful and perfect accomplishment? Anyway, here is Coleridge discussing Amazon:

      "Poets and Philosophers, rendered diffident by their very number, addressed themselves to "learned readers;" then aimed to conciliate the graces of "the candid reader;" till, the critic still rising as the author sank, the amateurs of literature collectively were erected into a municipality of judges, and addressed as THE TOWN! And now, finally, all men being supposed able to read, and all readers able to judge, the multitudinous PUBLIC, shaped into personal unity by the magic of abstraction, sits nominal despot on the throne of criticism."

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    3. I might be misreading Cage, as I'm quoting (or misquoting) Silence which I read back in the 80s and possibly read badly. Surely he was joyful enough about speech and music; certainly he said, "Nothing is accomplished by making/hearing/performing a piece of music," which I think he saw as liberating. Which is not how I usually use that phrase, no.

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    4. A mission statement for him, I mean (I know you're not framing it that way) -- but I suspect he's using 'nothing' in the Zen sense of absolute fullness or utter divorce from thing-ness. 'Mission statement' is wrong. Say mischievous and serious paradox. Not-thing is a state that can't be said because words engage us with objects and conceptual formulations; saying removes us from the possibility of Nothing into the certainty of Something. If Cage is "saying it" then how is Cage saying? Maybe that winds us around and back to your "how and why and what" If Cage is giving us a what (Nothing) and posing the question of How then what is the role of Why?

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    5. Oh, that's good. I had not thought of it that way: "Nothing is accomplished..." where nothing is a positive thing, a benefit, a state to be desired, the actual goal. Yes, that's quite quite different and I will think of this the next time I listen to Cage's music. I wonder if I can think of this the next time I play Bach on the violin. It's a beautiful idea, the attainment of nothing. I should read Silence again, now that I'm older and not so set in my ways.

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  4. i wrote my comment at pykk before i read the above. enjoyment is good. and good prose enhances enjoyment. ideas satisfy curiousity, an innate trait. therefore i read and probably won't take up golf. i hate those funny shoes with the tassels anyhow...

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    1. They also make you ride around in clown cars. Golf is terrible.

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  5. Amusing and hits home. Probably the appropriate comment on that quote and the current day is just, "Like."

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