Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

In "Marginalia," a collection of thoughts and observations by Edgar Allan Poe published in 1849, there is a passage that goes, "The enormous multiplication of books in every branch of knowledge is one of the greatest evils of this age; since it presents one of the most serious obstacles to the acquisition of correct information, by throwing in the reader's way piles of lumber in which he must painfully grope for the scraps of useful matter, peradventure interspersed." God knows what Poe would have said about what the "Age of Information" and the Internet has wrought. At least the effort and expense in publishing a book served as a useful impediment to the hordes of the cluelessly opinionated and the agressively fact-challenged who would have relentlessly and mercilessly foisted their hefty, bound ignorance on anyone within reach. Alas, the Internet combined with cheap access and things like blog sites has provided far less impediment, with the net, so to speak, result akin to a convoy of tractor-trailers loaded with Africanized bees and South American army ants crashing and overturning on the highway, threatening the native species, a k a the mainstream press already weakened by years of corporate poisoning, and despoiling the news in general with their numbers and annoying behavior.

No doubt few if any of there horde members think of themselves as being locust-like in nature and functionality, but even well-meaning ones get lost amid the greater swarm and serve only to add to the buzz, both literally and figuratively, but not in any good way in either case--the free press used to at least in theory function as a check and balance to wayward politics and politicians. But that requires some degree of responsible journalism engaged in facts and a clear voice in presenting those facts--how much checking and balancing can a discordant babel of noise ever provide? And in terms of activism, Harold Prince is too kind to the young people of today. Where are the crowds of young people today? Engaged in iPod listening, shopping, mixology, vacationing, Crackberrying, MySpacing, Facebooking and other Mammonic-like activities, with fewer and fewer truly involved idealists aware and concerned with life outside of microcosms of insect-like behavior and interests.

Bernie Conneely

Somerville, MA

Jun 12 2007 - 11:55am

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