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The year was sometime around 1445. A German goldsmith by the name of Johannes Gutenberg turned his talents and attention to creating a new device that would come to be known as a printing press.
Little did he realise that in so doing, he would set in motion a sequence of events that would forever alter the dissemination of knowledge and, by extension, radically revolutionise society.
His invention also leant its name to a new leg of the professional body, which became commonly known as “the press”.
Roughly two centuries thereafter, the famed English statesman, philosopher, scientist and author, Sir Francis Bacon, described it as “one of three things that changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world”.
But history and time are notoriously fickle bed fellows and now, some 567 years later, the print industry faces the threat of heading down the same route as our rhino friends: extinction.
Technology has taken on the role of chief whipping boy in the debate about who, or what, is to blame for its demise. (Why buy a newspaper when you can read the latest news online – or better yet, on your smartphone?)
Nevertheless, while it’s certainly a symptom of the broader sickness, as a seemingly soon-to-be-redundant wordsmith myself, my finger is firmly pointed at the advent of social media.
A mere 140 characters has come to determine what will or won’t constitute a significant story, which only serves to further fuel our society’s increasing disregard for detail in a world where we’ve become slaves to the “bigger, better, faster” mantra.
And with many a celebrity having claimed platforms such as Twitter as their own personal publicity forums, the status of Justin Bieber’s relationship or Lady Gaga’s latest weight gain has become the stuff of breaking news.
Yes, change is inevitable. In many ways, it’s what has encou-raged the progression of the human species. So it could be argued that Facebook and its “self-service” buddies (including the 118 million-plus blogs polluting cyberspace) are simply the next step in the logical advancement of how we communicate with one another.
But here’s the kicker: where our forebearers used their clay tablets, papyri, styluses and – later – quills, pencils, pens and – much later – telegraphs and typewriters to record historical events, classic tales or even information crucial to their very existence, our con-temporary culture is using modern “writing” materials for far more noble pursuits… like sharing what they’re wearing on any given day, how many calories they consumed during dinner, or just how drunk they were the night before.
And our showbiz siblings are not only getting in on the act – they are the main instigators of this whole “me, me, me” movement.
Why read the newspapers to educate yourself on pressing political issues, economic subjects, environmental concerns and other equally trivial matters when Rihanna just tweeted about her craving for a cheeseburger?
So, what to do about this trou-bling state of affairs?
Well, short of obliterating every cellphone, PC, laptop and iPad on the planet, there’s not much that can be done to stop this tsunami of frivolity.
Unless, as many a misinter-pretation of the Mayan calendar predicts, the world does indeed end on December 21.
Beyond that, in the famous words of The Borg: “Resistance is futile.”
LARA DE MATOS