Pinches of Salt

Something occurred to me.

I had just finished reading the introduction to Michael McKeon’s The Origins of the English Novel 1600-1740 when I had a thought (strange how that happens).

Sorting out “modes” or “genres” is a difficult thing. I’ve read lots of stuff about it, including Todorov and David Perkin’s work. I liked the plan of attack that McKeon laid out: rather than starting with an originary hypothesis, he decided it might be better to begin with the time that the idea of the novel was a useful one and work backward from there. Why did the classification of the novel as something worthy of it’s own noun serve a purpose? Good question.

Then I drove to the store. I started thinking about the centrality of the Internet as a label to identify “new” communicative behaviors. Why is this nominalization useful? I don’t recall seeing book length works on how the telephone changed the world. I didn’t hear many debates over the future of the telephone. Or, the distribution of phone books— oh my god, people will be able to randomly pick out strangers and call them! What might this mean for the future of society?

This is why I find it hard to get too excited about all the net discussion. This thing might as well be a microwave oven or a toaster to me. The question that never seems to get asked is: how is it better than the communication technologies we had before? Were there studies on the social behaviors of the party line? Or, why the party line had its boom period, and then faded from use as the costs of single user telephones grew smaller?

A lot of trees are sure being killed over this Internet thing, which is a bit oxymoronic. The real story is much older than that. It reminded me of a song by Roy Harper.

Pinches of Salt

Arthur read stories he got from the shelf
of the gingerbread house of the men in between
making his mind up to keep to himself
and somewhere the future had been.

Pinches of salt
Nobody’s fault
Just the tune of the moon on the ocean.

One year quite suddenly out of the blue
the phone box grew curtains with Sanderson prints
and designers of countryside loaded the view
with “sort of” decisions and hints
And Arthur slept in on the edge of his seat
way back in his mind where the butterflies flew
bred non-committal to live nice and neat
with lots of his dreams coming true

Pinches of salt
Nobody’s fault
Just the tune of the moon on the ocean.

Roy described on his mailing list what “the phone box grew curtains with Sanderson prints” was about. It misses the US audience. In the UK, telephones were slow to come into homes. It was phone boxes first, but then eventually, there was one in every living room. I suspect that the Internet will really be that way for the majority. It’s an appliance, like a telephone. The majority, still wrapped in their dreams and motives will sleep, until it’s just another thing that’s there, suddenly and out of the blue.

After all, we’re just pinches of salt. Nobody’s fault. Just the tune of the moon on the ocean. We give things like the Internet a name, because it’s useful to have something to call it. “Blog” was created to describe a certain type of location on that communication web. In and of itself, the concept is about as interesting as a telephone number, or a party line. The people behind them, and what they say is what I’m in it for.

I do think that there are evolving modes, genres, and types that deserve looking into. However, discussing the machinery behind them bores me to tears. I’m in it for the stories.