Johannes Gutenberg (1399-1468)
It being the fiftieth anniversary of The New York Review of Books, I read a great article by Timothy Garton Ash entitled “From the Lighthouse: The World and the NYR After Fifty Years.” There is no one I would trust more to write such an article, as Garton Ash is the author of History of the Present: Essays, Sketches, and Dispatches from Europe in the 1990s. Shortly after the collapse of Russian Communism, he traveled across the continent interviewing all the major players and trying (rather successfully, I thought) to put it all into perspective.
Probably what I remember most from the NYR article is his term “Post-Gutenberg.” That hit me right between the eyes and brought a whole lot of images into mind. I was sitting down at Bibigo in Westwood drinking a cup of hot barley tea when a young co-ed asked me a question. I was so startled that I couldn’t hear a word she said. She inhabited a different universe than I did, a universe defined by smart phones, Twitter, and various other digital accoutrements. I couldn’t imagine a person young enough to be my granddaughter even addressing me directly in the first place, unless she held a clipboard and was soliciting long-term donations for some charity. (Part of the problem was a combination of the restaurant’s noise level and partial hearing loss caused by Ménières Disease.)
Getting back to that term “Post-Gutenberg.” If anyone is a Gutenbergian, I am one. Even though I have read three books on a Kindle e-reader this month alone, I do most of my reading in print form. In the morning, I scan through the Los Angeles Times. During lunch, I read either The New Yorker or The New York Review of Books, with resulting damage to my shirtfronts as various sauces attach themselves to me. During the working day, I visit various news websites, such as those of CNN, NBC, The Raw Story, Salon.Com, and Truthdig.Com. Home from work, I cook or warm up our dinner; and, while Martine watches television, I read a good deep-dish book.
In other words, a rather substantial portion of my day is concerned with the written word: usually in print, but occasionally in digital format. I thought briefly of signing up for Twitter, but then I realized that my congenital verborrhea prevents me from limiting myself to 140 characters. And, being the dinosaur that I am, I prefer to use complete sentences and unabbreviated terms. Hell, I’m even a nut about the exact diacritical marks when quoting foreign words and names. (Like Ménières Disease in the first paragraph.)
So here I am, a Gutenbergian in a Post-Gutenberg universe—a Twitterverse, as it were. You know what? I am not only a Gutenbergian, but an unregenerate one at that. If you want to change me, you’ll have to send me to a cultural re-education camp where I will be forced to finger-f*ck with a smartphone all my waking hours—like everybody else.