The old ball and chain has reportedly been replaced by the mobile device. People are complaining from the stress of being unable to escape from the smart phone in their hip pocket.  But the portability of modern electronic devices is not to blame for their inescapability. It’s the connectivity that’s oppressive.

The mobile device unconnected to anything is as much a ball and chain as short link stapled to nothing. I found myself completely unable to read on the computer until I bought the cheap Amazon Kindle device. It’s portable, stays charged for weeks and best of all does nothing more than display the books you’ve downloaded. There’s no distracting temptation to check your email or get incensed by the latest news stories because you can’t.

You can’t. The best thing about the Kindle is it constrains you. It does one thing and nothing else, which frees you to do other things. It is now perfectly possible to tramp around for miles and stop by some tree stump and continue with Memory Hold-the-door: The Autobiography of John Buchan, which I am currently reading, much as Buchan himself did a hundred years ago except he had to lug around a book made of heavy paper.  The smart phone is still sits in the hip pocket, but is switched low, held only against emergencies.

I can read again with less.

My next read is probably going to be Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America’s Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941, which I came to after re-discovering Gary Cooper’s Sergeant York, which I remember watching in black and white back in my teen years.   I realize now that Sergeant York was not about World War 1, though the action is set in that period. It was about World War 2 which led me to Those Angry Days.
The themes of the movie were pacifism versus the need to oppose tyranny. On the one hand the widespread disillusion following the Great War held people back. And on the other was the goad of necessity. Sergeant York settled nothing.  It was still playing in first run when Pearl Harbor was bombed and Wikipedia says many viewers went straight from watching it in the theater to the recruitment depot.  Gary Cooper’s famous classic was actually the biggest grossing film of 1941.  The screenplay clearly shows it was produced in the middle of an unresolved national debate over whether to stay out or join the Next One.  As such it reflected the contest between the isolationists and the interventionists, an argument never actually settled, until the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor settled it for all time. To the question: who decided whether America should join World War 2 the answer is ‘Hirohito’.

Funny that. For all of our thinking, history comes and drags us off by the hair. But how do we think? The literate man of Buchan’s day lived in a world where the classical idiom was alive and vigorous. You could quote Plato, Virgil, Homer and every educated man knew what you meant.  In Sergeant York the characters debate in terms of references to the Bible.  In what terms to they think today?

In terms of popular culture, probably. But I wouldn’t know what the terms are because I haven’t watched any TV in 20 years and wonder if I’ve missed anything.

Mrs Wretchard has been trying to get me to watch what she refers to as “long form” TV, which she says is driving the current Golden Age of TV. She mentions the Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Homeland, The Wire etc as examples. She says “this rage for telling long stories on TV has hooked everybody and spread globally. As demand for actors heats up, we’re seeing the same American, Australian and British faces on our screens juggling various characters and confusing the poor hapless viewer.”

So there’s a global culture, I just don’t know what it is.  She ticks off the names and believes the demand for talent is now so great “more new faces are needed ASAP.”  Intrigued, I asked her where to start and she suggested “24″.  That 2001-2010 series, she says, set the pace. “It also created modern icons like Chloe, ‘the geeky girl’, which now populates virtually every police procedural e.g. NCIS, even superhero adaptations e.g. Arrow.”  That list of shows was all greek to me and word that  24: Live Another Day is back in a new series starting today left me scratching my head.

The last long form I probably watched was the Republic Serials.

I guess it marks a change of idiom. And now I guess we think in terms of Arrow, Thor, Iron Man and the Black Canary.  Times change, but I wonder if people do.



Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with you friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.

The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity for $3.99, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea $0.99, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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