Under The Sun

Tuesday, February 10, 2004


Permit me to quote myself :-). I commented thusly on this post by Michael Blowhard:

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"Doesn't it seem that, as digital technology moves into a field, that the field always becomes more ... down to earth, more brusque and less special? Writing becomes less about qualities and tone and more about information and attitude."

This is tangential, of course, but: writing in the digital media remains very much about qualities and tone. This can be non-obvious because Google finds bad writing as well as good, but in any community that makes use of the accolade of respect--the blogosphere, most mailing lists, almost any group of serious computer experts (hackers, not crackers)--respect correlates strongly, though not exclusively, with the ability to use language well. One criterion of good language is indeed efficiency, but that's a return to the Classic Style, not a degradation. Another criterion of good language, to which hackers especially are attuned, is the ability to convey multiple levels of meaning, i.e. to write between the lines. An example is the mailing-list post that treats its interlocutor courteously while nonetheless conveying to those in the know the author's less-than-respectful personal opinion. This is one digital-media analogue of snobbery, which, as always, goes hand in hard with art. If you're inclined, spend some time browsing the Jargon File ( http://www.jargon.net/jargonfile/ ), and reading the introductory remarks. I suppose it's possible that non-hackers don't perceive the aesthetic that's in play here, but if so that's a failing of non-hackers; there is definitely an aesthetic, and it is definitely in "play".
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About young gals. I'm a 20something male, and the gi^H^H women I'm interested in are exactly the ones who have depth. There are a lot of them out there; they're under the pop-culture radar, so to speak, but that's just because the radar is calibrated wrong. The people who are actually taken in by the pop-cultural illusions are indeed going to be (in general) miserable when they grow up, but people without depth have always been miserable, and always will be; the looming crisis of the demographic under discussion is in that respect no different from the mid-life crisis of the Boomer who finally realizes that his corporate job and 2.3 kids have left him without a real sense of self. So the problem of identity you're seeing is indeed different than it used to be, but in the grand scheme of things it's normal, not aberrant.

About poetry and the sacred. Those are not and never have been younglings' concepts. Adolescent poetry is almost universally bad--mine sure was. It may be that for many younglings these days adolescence lasts longer than it used to, but that's just the continuation of the historical trend: when Romeo and Juliet were my age they'd been dead for ten years (to borrow Tom Lehrer). We still, eventually, grow up, and we will as long as the problem of scarcity ensures that we can't all have everything we want. And when we grow up, we will write poetry and embrace sacredness. Mere generations can't change the nature of life.
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