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How Many Victims Will the Revolution Claim?


We are in the throes of a media revolution, much like the one Ray Bradbury predicted nearly sixty years ago in his seminal work, Fahrenheit 451: Lifestyle trends, modern reading habits, and the diffusion of technology have collided with a worldwide economic crisis to threaten the viability of the printed word. Readership of books and periodicals is down across the board — Western culture is experiencing a protracted decline of interest in intellectual pursuits and, therefore, ideas themselves. The younger set has been lured away by the dazzling lights and undulating pulsations of ever newer types of visual and audio media; entertainment, and access to entertainment, trumps all. The older set in our go-go world largely considers sitting down to read a luxury, not an exercise necessary for the formation of a healthy, active mind. Informational tidbits, quickly acquired via sound bites, tweets, headlines, news roundups, and bottom-of-the-screen tickers, and histrionic insta-punditry, bane of the “new media,” now satisfy the age-old yearning to grapple with the Great Ideas. Time is money, don’t you know, money to pour into time-saving technology, technology like broadband, digital cable, Wi-Fi, TiVo, iPhones, laptops, blue tooth, and “tools” such as IM, texting, Twitter, blogspots, Google, etc. The revolution marches on.

As anthropologists know, technology is a good indicator of a culture’s direction. Technology expresses its creator’s needs and wants. Our technology, and what it delivers, is an expression of what we have become: all flash, no substance; impatient, superficial, measured in pixels and gigabytes.

The media revolution is really symptomatic of larger cultural crisis, a crisis that could be summed up in a bumper sticker one is likely to come across in Berkeley, the land of bumper-sticker ideology — another condensation of critical thinking. Quoting Eleanor Roosevelt, it reads, “Small Minds Discuss People, Average Minds Discuss Events, Great Minds Discuss Ideas.” We are witnessing the vanishing of great minds in Western culture.

If you are reading this, it’s because you are one of the remaining few who understand the role ideas play in the world and in the life of the Church. Ideas have consequences, as the old cliché goes, whether or not people take the time to acknowledge their existence. Ideas have traditionally been disseminated and discussed in written form on a printed page — lectures, homilies, and discussion groups notwithstanding. And it is the printed word that is edging toward endangered-species status.

If you think we exaggerate, consider what some observers have described as the extinction of the daily newspaper. There’s even a website dedicated to chronicling its demise, www.newspaperdeathwatch.com. The Newspaper Association of America has reported that daily newspaper circulation fell from its peak of over 63 million in 1984 to under 50 million in 2008. (Meanwhile the U.S. population rose from roughly 225 million in 1980 to 350 million in 2009.) Several major metro dailies have recently shuttered their print operations, including the Seattle Post-Intel­ligencer, Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, the Cincinnati Post, the Albuquerque Tribune, the Baltimore Examiner, and the Tucson Citizen.

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