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Writers Notebook
Notes and Epigrams From the Depths of the Ironic Web

The internet is a peculiar mass-medium. It moves in a collective fashion, like a tsunami, and yet is dotted with absolutely startling new things. In its collective mode it is like radio and TV. Every decade and every generation will see enormous change. Today is fated to be laughed at in the future. A precious view legacies remain from 50's television; everything else becomes subject to scorn and criticism. The Net will experience this.

Underneath the heaving snake however are grains of sand that hold eternities. These are vastly more important and interesting than Yahoo, Craigslist, Google, or a host of infamous internet players.

Wikipedia is very interesting, perhaps the most interesting happening online. But I venture to guess that in ten years it will look silly.

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The global scope of the beast is impossible to calculate. Will we leap out of our national, racial, religious identities into something new? And will the new eventually confront the old, as in the Protestant Reformation? It's a century or two away but the possibility exists.

It could very well be that in 400 years the historians will say, "yes, the end of the nation-state system began in the early 21st century with the advent of what they called the "internet." It wouldn't shock me and yet I would not want to get in the middle of the conflict that may arise as new ideas find new armies and new ways to bring down the old.

The young absorb great chuffs of information; the middle-aged are desperately trying to differentiate the good from the bad. And I saw a poll recently saying most Americans now believe "middle-age" belongs to those 60 and 70-somethings. Could be. Why not? Since vox populi has said my youth lasts for a few more years I'll try to make the most of it.

A note about generations: Each generation struggles not simply for identify but for the power and responsibility to take over the institutions of the great society. The middle-aged generation looks at them, judges them, and decides where they need to correct themselves. Among baby-boomers it was their wildness, their "hedonism" and the culture set against them the cultural conservatives. When we look now at the younger generation we see splendid energy, wonderful openness and adventuresome spirits. What we don't see in them is complex knowledge. For the next ten to fifteen years they may find themselves surrounded by people telling them what they need to know about the world.

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A writer moves from shock to delight by a singular fact in American society: This is not a literary culture. It is dominated by fundamentalist preachers, scientists, technologists, and bureaucrats. Oh yes, the entertainers as well. And these activities contain a lot of smart people. The smartness and intelligence is usually defined by a tremendous lack of imagination and an abundance of infantile emotions. It used to be cute but now that we are in this powerful position it's rather scary.

The people, generally, view a literate culture as a vestige of the past; a past they want nothing to do with. For them the present is all because there, in the present, even the President must serve their needs. The people are served a vast array of things and don't have to know how they got there. They need to know nothing but how to make the money to buy the objects on the table of feasts.

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There are two sides to the equation of the "myth of American culture." On one side, "make it new," and on the other, "know all that has gone before you." That combination is a potent energy and it requires both sides. Making it new is a kind of barbarism that repeats some fragment of the past and then is enforced by intimidation. And simply "knowing all that has gone before you," leaves one in the ridiculous place of wanting everything to flow effortlessly from the past.

It's too late for that. The significant break has happened and we are flowing; a blue dot in pathetic black eternity.

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