April 6, 2001 (Ira Pilgrim)

The Information Age

The cellular-phone industry has greatly expanded, making complete local and long-distance service available to the homeless.

P. J. O'Rourke

With the media and politicians predilection for catch phrases, this is being called The Information Age. In some ways this is a good analogy. Information is more readily available to anyone in the world, with a computer and a telephone, than it has ever been. Before long, you won't need the telephone. This is particularly true of people like me who live in remote areas that aren't blessed with large libraries. On my relatively isolated mountain top, I have access to the National Library of Medicine and many medical and scientific journals. Many literary classics are readily available, thanks to individuals who have taken the trouble to create and maintain web sites on people like William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Eric Hoffer and H.L. Mencken. There are probably many others that I am not yet aware of. The internet library keeps growing.

What is more needed than the availability of information, is the availability of reliable information. This has always been a problem and it is likely to remain a problem forever. Every time that I go into a bookstore or a library, I think that here is an immense mass of writing, but most of it isn't worth the paper that it is printed on. There are also some real gems. The problem is, how can I tell the difference? I can rely on the critics, but they are far from infallible. They often praise crap and ignore some great writing. Cervantes' classic Don Quixote was panned by the critics of his time. Critics often merely attest to whether a book is like other successful books, not on its originality or whether it represents the truth or not.

I have seen newsreel clips of city streets full of people talking into cell phones. Are they saying anything of any importance to either themselves or anyone else? Probably not. The essential things in life are not communicated in long conversations. Important and useful things are communicated in short sentences such as, "I'll be home at five," or "Pick up bananas and milk." When people have a long phone conversation, it is almost always trivial. It is a way of people touching each other without actual bodily contact. It can be a substitute for cuddling or sex. People never totally abandon the womb. Intercourse, both verbal and sexual, is the way that people keep in touch with the warm and secure. Teenagers, and some adults can have hour long conversations in which they manage to say absolutely nothing to each other. I understand that in Finland, many young people have their own cell phones which they use constantly. While a cell phone conversation might be more expensive than an actual date, phones are a much safer way of touching. You can't get pregnant or catch a disease from a telephone. By the time the talk is translated into action, the element of impulsiveness is almost eliminated. Consequently, I cast my vote in favor of telephones; for everyone but me.

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