The Countermarch

The Telegraph and the Clothesline

“We are in great haste to construct a
magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas;
but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.”

—Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Communication, in the abstract, is easier today than it has ever been before, largely because of the advance of technology.  From the telegraph to the telephone to the radio to the television to the Internet, the ability to communicate something—anything—to others, and to an ever-greater number of others, has become increasingly trivial, both in labor and in economic cost.  In this sense, the Information Revolution has been a revolution indeed; but whether it has truly been informative, in the sense of providing people with more and more of the information that is actually meaningful, is still an open question.

Indeed, there is reason to believe that much of what each of us could truly benefit from knowing has been lost in the flood of the asynchronous transfer of data—“communication without conversation,” as I called it last month.  Here and there, that realization may creep into our consciousness in unexpected ways.  The average person takes far more photographs today than ever before, yet he has far fewer of those photos preserved in a physical form, with fewer if any pictures of his family hanging on his walls. ...

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