Saturday, October 16, 2010

E.B. White on New Media (c. 1938)

In the same tradition as Ann Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea and various writings of Wendell Berry, E.B. White’s One Man’s Meat explores the costs and side effects of modernization on our society in the last century or so. Among the more haunting bits of prescience are his observations about how journalism and entertainment - and the technologies that diffuse them - were, even then, making profound changes in how people see the world. He wrote in a 1938 essay:
“Lately I haven’t had time to read the papers, as I have been building a mouseproof closet against a rain of mice. But sometimes, kindling a fire with last week’s Gazette, I glance through the pages and catch up a little with the times…

“The news of television… is what I particularly go for when I get a chance at the paper; for I believe television is going to be the test of the modern world, and that in this new opportunity to see beyond the range of our vision we shall discover either a new and unbearable disturbance of the general peace or a saving radiance in the sky…"

“It must have been two years ago that I attended a television demonstration at which it was shown beyond reasonable doubt that a person sitting in one room could observe the nonsense taking place in another. I recall being more amused by what was happening in the tangible room where I sat than by what appeared in the peephole of science… Since then I have followed the television news closely.”

“Radio has already given sound a wide currency, and sound ‘effects’ are taking the place once enjoyed by sound itself. Television will enormously enlarge the eye’s range, and, like radio, will advertise the Elsewhere. Together with the tabs, the mags, and the movies, it will insist that we forget the primary and the near in favor of the secondary and the remote. More hours in every twenty-four will be spent digesting ideas, sounds, images – distant and concocted. In sufficient accumulation, radio sounds and television sights may become more familiar to us than their originals.” (italics mine)

White was writing in a day when millions of Americans had never made a long-distance phone call. We've come a long way since then. But our global connections sometimes seem quite costly:
“When I was a child people simply looked about them and were moderately happy; today they peer beyond the seven seas, they bury themselves waist deep in tidings, and by and large what they see and hear makes them unutterably sad.”


HangyeolKim said...

Hi, I am looking for the full text of this article, 'on new media' and so far, this posting is the closest one to the originial text among what I've found. Is there any way I can get the full text? Or do you know any URL for that? It would really be appreciated, if you could let me know.
My email address is ''.
Thank you.

Marti said...

When I have access to a scanner I'll see if I can scan and send it to you.