Readers, will you indulge me in something? For months now, I’ve been meaning to say something about Mark Helprin’s latest book, Digital Barbarism: A Writer’s Manifesto. It is a strange, wondrous, challenging, and enriching book — possibly even an ennobling book. Mark is my friend, and you may discount everything I say. But then, you may want to hear a word or two, regardless. Let me jot just a few “impromptus” on this book.
‐Anyway, let me continue to quote Helprin, right where I left off — he is not talking about money, specifically, but thank you for indulging my Horne story, regardless:
You can’t teach someone how to cook by showing him how to put a frozen dinner in a microwave oven. The system is much like Sesame Street, which, instead of waiting until a child is five and teaching him to count in an afternoon, devotes thousands of hours drumming it into him during his undeveloped infancy. But while numbers will remain, fifth graders will, when they get to graduate school, have no contact with current computer programs and applications. The “teaching” of computer in the schools may be likened to a business academy in the twenties founded for the purpose of teaching the telephone: “When you hear the bell, pick up the receiver, place it thusly near your face, and say ‘Hello?’”
Basic computer literacy is a self-taught subject requiring no more than a few days. Ordinary literacy, however, requires twenty years or more, and that is only a beginning.
And so on. That is a pretty good taste of how Helprin thinks and writes.
‐I’d like to give you another swath of Helprin, before closing up — this is characteristic of the man, both in writing and in thought:
Except as part of work (or in a crisis such as a battle, earthquake, or fire), in the presence of more than two people who are not members of my immediate family I slowly begin to disintegrate. I don’t like that, and what I like even less is when some people put me in such a position despite knowing from experience that I can’t tolerate it. Nonetheless, they do it repeatedly and enjoy and condemn my failure while they are quite willing to make allowance for thieves, murderers, and publishers. They will with weepy compassion forgive someone who beats them silly or kills for cigarettes, but they will not forgive me when all I want is not to be in the room.
‐Have a great day, heroic ones!