Earthquakes, volcanoes, and Man —
Too much yeast, God said.
Songs and Letters, April 25, 2008
Word of Mouth
Someone who lives well west of us, in the first row of houses overlooking the river, said that the recent high water rose into her yard, but did not reach her house. When the water receded, it left behind all manner of filth from the homeless encampment that was washed away upstream and from elsewhere — bits of bedding and clothing, untreated sewage, plastic, wrappers, containers, syringes.
As recorded by Henry Adams, during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency missions of foreign diplomacy and the working out of various plans and ideas took weeks, months, or longer to fail or to bring to fruition. Letters written under one impression arrived by boat weeks after the situations they addressed had changed, and the instructions they contained had become obsolete. How was Jefferson to know, for instance, that Napoleon had suddenly given up on the idea of possessing the Louisiana territory and had directed his underlings to sell, when the president’s immediate concern was simply to keep the peace and gain access to the mouth of the Mississippi?
Now, by contrast, the practice is to tweet without thinking, to quote out of context, and to flash images at such a rate as to numb. A powerful, corrupt man must only wave his hand or sign a document in order for bombs to fall, or to bring a segment of society or an entire country to its knees. This is called politics. But the roots of his actions are as frightened, ignorant, and dark as those of faceless, nameless thousands whose crimes, though much smaller in kind and in scale, land them in prison.
There will come a time, perhaps not too far hence, that the word tweet in this context will not be understood. The current meanings of words like web and online will as easily be swept away, and, in order to communicate, humans will have to rely once again on their faces, eyes, and tongues. Children might even be taught cursive, and how to properly fold a letter.
Or it might be something else entirely and not yet imagined, just as this is.
April 17, 2019
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