Did you see this New York Times Book Review essay by Leon Wieseltier? (link)

I have been thinking about it, because some of his ideas produced such a strong jolt of recognition for me. Disclaimer: I am in the “elderly” demographic and a longtime librarian with the traditional love of books. I try to keep pace with our rapidly changing world of information and technology and have at least a nodding acquaintance with each new development. This was easier before I retired last year, as my library (link) was ever poised on the cutting edge of each innovation. But, I have felt for some time “among the disrupted.”

Wieseltier looks at various aspects of this phenomenon.

“What does understanding of media contribute to the understanding of life?  Journalistic institutions slowly transform themselves into silent sweatshops in which the words cannot wait for thoughts, and first responses are promoted into best responses, and patience is a professional liability.”

Thoughtful consideration is replaced by knee-jerk commentary. Watch a few repetitious (and boring) news broadcasts.

“Meanwhile the discussion of culture is steadily being absorbed into the discussion of business. There are ‘metrics’ for phenomena that cannot be metrically measured. Numerical values are assigned to things that cannot be captured by numbers.”

What is the metric for old-fashioned, attentive and careful reference service at the library? How do you “count”   finding the information that solves a problem, soothes a worry or satisfies the need of a person desperate for facts or longing to know more about a family’s history?

“Here is a humanist proposition for the age of Google: The processing of information is not the highest aim to which the human spirit can aspire, and neither is competitiveness in the global economy.”

Do we push aside the humans, while we acquire more information, more quickly, and in new ways? Do we see and hear the human need for connection as we rush to another new way to process information?

“The decision to prefer the requirements of commerce to the requirements of culture cannot be exonerated by the thrills of the digital revolution.”

“The humanistic methods that were practiced before digitalization will be even more urgent after digitalization, because we will need help in navigating the unprecedented welter. Searches for keywords will not provide contexts for keywords. Patterns that are revealed by searches will not identify their causes and reasons. The new order will not relieve us of old burdens, and the old pleasures, of erudition and interpretation.”

New technology is awesome!  Also awesome, the experience, skill, intuition, and sensitivity of human connections!





More short stories. I love them! If you prefer longer fiction, skip this post. If you want to try shorter fiction, Problems with People might be a good place to start.

PROBLEMS WITH PEOPLE by David Guterson will dazzle you with writing that in each story immediately puts you into a situation with characters who don’t quite understand each other, but are trying to relate. From settings in the pacific Northwest to South Africa, Germany, and Nepal, Guterson skillfully reveals the psychological dramas of daily life. Idealistic goals, memories of lost opportunities, misunderstandings and family quirks… the immediacy of the settings and characterizations makes each story a small gem. Guterson is best known for his PEN/Faulkner Award winning novel Snow Falling on Cedars.

MAY YOU LIVE IN INTERESTING TIMES by Tereze Gluck  is another short story collection inhabited by introspective women making their ways through contemporary life. The writing is essay-like; it does not envelop you as Guterson’s writing does. The narrators are brutally honest about their feelings and actions. One narrator is a woman trying to overcome her revulsion, while also trying to maintain her friendship with an old friend dying of AIDS. Each story is a version of the purported Chinese curse in the title of the collection, which won the Iowa Short Fiction Award when it was published in 1995.