Reading at the Crossroads

Reading at the Crossroads is an archive for columns and letters which appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star. I also blog here when my patience is exhausted by what I feel is irritating, irrational and/or ironic in life. --gary daily

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Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, United States

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

CROSSROADS COMMENT -- “Waz ^?” “N2MH.”

[Terre Haute Tribune Star, June 17, 2007]

“Waz ^?” “N2MH.”

We wire and shrink the world yet our lives are becoming more insular and self-centered. In at least one case the result is clearly calamitous.

Our email address books grow, but our attention to the news “at home and abroad,” as we used to say, continues to shrink. Newspapers are glanced at or never picked up. What’s left of TV news, which now bristles mindlessly with car chases, health fads, celebrity gossip, endless weather statistics, and cutesy animal/pet footage, still has trouble collecting an attentive audience. Readers of serious fiction and non-fiction books are a rare breed heading toward extinction.

People busy themselves furiously punching buttons on cell phones that connect them to other people furiously punching buttons on their cell phones.What passes for conversation and discussion is the skipping of instant “thoughts” to instant “friends” over instant text messaging paraphernalia. Having skated blithely on the surface of human communication, we congratulate ourselves for being a part of the buzz, on the cutting edge, or, in a word that should live in misnomer infamy: “Connected.”

Daniel Altman’s new book, Connected: 24 Hours in the Global Economy observes that, “the day when you could sit at home and think only of your own little circle, your own work and your own neighborhood has clearly passed.”

Though uncritically accepted, this view is grossly at odds with the reality of the frenetic swirl of our own creation. We retreat, we hide, we avoid. And it all takes place within our “own little circle,” our “own work,” our “own neighborhood.” “Connected” is not the word that applies. “Detached” works.

The United States is at war in two countries. Sometime in the course of the next 24 hours umpteen numbers of teenagers and an almost equal number of people ten to fifty years older will manically type into their cellphones this deathless message: “Waz ^?” and wait with bated breath for the answer to flash back: “N2MH.” Our commitment to the study of foreign languages is a joke in this country, but the cult of the “Connected” will proudly translate this non-speech for you: “What’s up?” “Not too much here.”

“Not too much here.” Indeed.

So we blindly and mutely rush on toward another death milestone in Iraq. Yesterday the 3500th death among Americans fighting courageously and struggling to survive in Iraq was announced. With the “American Idol” winner gloriously crowned and TV schedules filled with re-runs and retreads, a few more people than usual may momentarily take notice. But “notice” is about as strong a word as one can use.

Bodies come home to towns and cities and the devastating impact on the few is great and lasting, but most only “notice.” 3500 dead and the failed policies that cast death across the land continue to reign, “noticed” but not really questioned, not yet really opposed.

“Waz ^?” How do you instant text message: “This war is a tragic mistake and failure and we should get out NOW”?

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