George W.S. Trow calls this passage “my personal favorite Mainstream American Cultural Artifact” (well, I’ve chosen out the part that I find most significant, and added some emphasis):
The man of today is a citizen of the world. He seems to be ubiquitous. It is as though he had a thousand eyes and ears and, alas, only one mind. Thought has two conditions. First, knowledge as food and stimulus, second, time for distributing and digesting that knowledge. But the first is so superabundantly fulfilled that it completely obliterates the second. Knowledge comes pouring in from all quarters so rapidly that the man can hardly receive, much less arrange and think out, the enormous mass of facts daily accumulating upon him. The boasted age of printing presses and newspapers, of penny magazines and penny encyclopedias is not necessarily the age of thought. There is a worldwide difference between knowledge and wisdom. The one consists of facts as they are, the other of facts as they may be. The one sees events, the other relations.
Seems pretty modern, doesn’t it? A nice summary of what we’re enmeshed in here in 2007, no? It was penned by one John A. French, and published in Continental Monthly in March 1864, and Trow cites it in My Pilgrim’s Progress, pp 174-175. His summary comment:
When I first read that, I was astounded. Was I involved in some multigenerational, genetic thing quite beyond my understanding? Well, I think, yes, and I think that in the next century, either people will have lost all memory and will start from scratch, or they will integrate with a multigenerational view of their experience. The failure of modernity means, among other things, that we will either start from scratch with nothing or we will find that we are necessarily connected with who we were before the process got rocking and rolling.
(My Pilgrim’s Progress, pg 175)
Something to chew upon as I contemplate the mountain of family photographs awaiting my attention…