Twitter, 19th Century style

So I had a nice weekend. Sad to see it finish. It was a long weekend since I took Friday off.
I took the time off to hook up with an old friend.
I don’t think he’d mind if I post his photo.

Yep, you might recognize him. Of Moby Dickian fame. It’s my man, Herman Melville.
One of my favorite American authors.

I read his work assiduously in my college Lit classes. The man was a genius and during my period of fledgling Great American wannabe authorship, he was the literary figure I fancied myself to be.

Melville’s life spanned much of the 19th Century. A period of time which saw the advent of America’s maturity amidst a grueling Civil War. A century which boasted of an agrarian heritage in its infancy and which grew into an increasingly urban and technological society in its ripe old age at the turn of the 20th Century.

Reading Melville affirms what a radically different temperament this country possessed just 150 years ago.

Bear with me because I am going to cite a passage from his short story, “Bartleby,the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street” because I need to make a point. Yes, sometimes I attempt to insert a semblance of thought around here, damn it.

The narrator of the story owns a legal office and he describes his employees. In describing “Nippers,” he writes at length with a decidedly 19th Century sense of deliberation and verbosity. This is just a snippet, 19th Century style. The full description as it appears in the story is much longer.

I always deemed him the victim of two evil powers-ambition and indigestion. The ambition was evinced by a certain impatience of the duties of a mere copyist, an unwarrantable usurpation of strictly professional affairs, such as the original drawing up of legal documents. The indigestion seemed betokened in an occasional nervous testiness and grinning irritability, causing the teeth to audibly grind together over mistakes committed in copying…

This “short story” requires a level of concentration (ie, selfless patience) not common among today’s 30-second spot mentality.

The other day, in my “cussing” post, I devoted a few sentences and thoughts to what I called the “rush society.”

The level of industrialization and technology since Melville’s time has increased so greatly and torrentially that it has left us with a lifestyle that bears little or no semblance to the pastoral climate of his day. It’s quite confounding to consider that, as technology has stepped in to do more for us, to handle all the mundane and repetitious tasks we previously spent hours doing (by hand), thus affording us more time, we still rush more and more in this mad dash for some vague and ill-defined finish line. This frenzied style of living has increased exponentially for decades.

Technology’s ostensible aim is speed and efficiency. In increasing amounts, it aims to build upon previous levels of swiftness.

Microwaves. Microprocessors. Heck, they even sell crap that heats water up and chills wine in the span of minutes. Fast.
Everything must be fast. Why?
Who the hell knows.
It’s just what we do.

I’m beyond criticizing this lunatic crescendo civilization is building towards. It is a social force greater than anything I can change.

I sit back and chill.
I rush when I need to, when I absolutely must.
I try to understand the pace of life. And where I fit in today.

We are brief and curt people.

We do nothing in depth and the quality of devotion we grant any task is directly proportional to its ease and simplicity.
We have become shallow social instruments.
We lack the ability of the 19th Century citizen, such as Melville, to whittle the layers away from objects and people, and really know them.

At work I encounter all sorts of people daily.

“Hi, how are you doing?
Good, and you?
Good, thanks!”

And by the time we’ve crossed each other’s paths in the hallway the last sentence has perhaps dwindled into distant incoherence with sincerity to match. Quick greetings, cursory acknowledgement of others which leave us untouched and unfeeling.

Twitter greetings.
We live in the age of Twitter.
If there is any timely phenomena that showcases our inability to value time, it is Twitter.
Blogging is just a bit more forgiving, but not much. As I type out my posts I keep an eye on the word count.
Once you pass the 800-1000 word range, you’re beginning to test the reader. Testing their devotion and willingness to set aside precious time to read your entire post.

Time is precious. Scientists design new gadgets with that consideration. Time is precious.
They do their job well, and we end up with more time…to do what?
Why to rush!
To run around frantically, to take care of our social life from the remotest spots our wireless network allows; to click out bullshit on our laptops which let us connect almost anywhere we can carry them. Productivity, they call it.

It’s about time, making the most of it.

Not about letting it pass peacefully and enjoy its passage. We must command it.

Brevity is not about valuing time. It is about defying time and trying to mold and shape it to fit our lives.
Ha, good luck with that.
We would be better off trying to catch the moon and package it in a cereal box.

Herman would have a tough time in our world.

How on earth would he describe Nippers in 140 characters? Well I can do it in 112!

I think Herman would be very proud.

6 Replies to “Twitter, 19th Century style”

  1. Paul…you didn’t actually have to look up Melville, did you??? *this is the point where you say no, regardless of the real answer*

  2. I’m currently reading this and then twittering about how I wiki Herman Melville. I just want EVERYONE to know that I looked him up.

  3. I like this post. It also makes me think of a conversation I had with my daughter just Friday afternoon. I asked if she wanted to go to the local grocery with me.
    Her: No, you aren’t capable of running into the grocery and then back out mother, you TALK to people.
    Me: Yes, if I see someone I actually like, I will stop and treat them like a human being who I care about, because I do. Crazy, right?
    Her: It’s not that mom, it’s just, can’t you call them when you’re not busy and just talk then, does it really have to be while we are in the middle of doing something?

    I paused for a second and made sure my answer had the significance to her that it did to me.
    Me: Yes, it actually does need to be while I am busy doing something, because showing someone I care about how their grandmother is doing, or inquiring about their son’s health when it is convenient for me, but just nodding my head and walking past them when I see them, well, that just makes me like everyone else, now doesn’t it?

    She sat there for a minute with a look on her face as if to say she really wished she could argue but knew it would be futile. After a sigh, she smiled and asked if we were also stopping at the local nursing home while we were out. I just winked and asked if she thought the little old men there could still enjoy lap dances, to which she laughed hysterically and reminded me I am both the best and worst influence in her life.

    Balance in all things

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