Good morning on this the tenth day of December in the year of our Lord 2016.
Winter is clearly here in force now. I was waiting for my oldest son at the bus stop and felt like I was slowly turning into an icicle. And I deal better with cold than with heat. There’s something fascinating about the cycle of how in northern climes the world dies off then comes back to life again. It’s an interesting metaphor, anyway. It also raises a curious question about fiction set in lands that are in permanent snow: what’s the basis of life there? It various with the fictional environment, of course, but perhaps the ones I find most interesting are the ones where there are warm lands nearby, so the basis of life is something like fish which wander into the colds to birth their young where there are fewer predators. It can make for some very pretty images.
As I’m working on the video response to my friend’s nephew which I mentioned before, I did a quick video which is just a short description of how to use a neodymium magnet as a stud finder, in place of an electronic stud finder or knocking with one’s finger and judging how hollow the sound is. The video wasn’t great but came out alright. As the British would say, it’s fit for purpose. But there’s one mistake in it where I want to put a text overlay and for some reason the video editor just isn’t playing sound. I’m sure I’ll fix it eventually, but it’s a reminder of the continual frustration of using technology. None of it works very well. Chesterton complained about this in What’s Wrong With the World:
Cast your eye round the room in which you sit, and select some three or four things that have been with man almost since his beginning; which at least we hear of early in the centuries and often among the tribes. Let me suppose that you see a knife on the table, a stick in the corner, or a fire on the hearth. About each of these you will notice one speciality; that not one of them is special. Each of these ancestral things is a universal thing; made to supply many different needs; and while tottering pedants nose about to find the cause and origin of some old custom, the truth is that it had fifty causes or a hundred origins. The knife is meant to cut wood, to cut cheese, to cut pencils, to cut throats; for a myriad ingenious or innocent human objects. The stick is meant partly to hold a man up, partly to knock a man down; partly to point with like a finger-post, partly to balance with like a balancing pole, partly to trifle with like a cigarette, partly to kill with like a club of a giant; it is a crutch and a cudgel; an elongated finger and an extra leg. The case is the same, of course, with the fire; about which the strangest modern views have arisen. A queer fancy seems to be current that a fire exists to warm people. It exists to warm people, to light their darkness, to raise their spirits, to toast their muffins, to air their rooms, to cook their chestnuts, to tell stories to their children, to make checkered shadows on their walls, to boil their hurried kettles, and to be the red heart of a man’s house and that hearth for which, as the great heathens said, a man should die.
Now it is the great mark of our modernity that people are always proposing substitutes for these old things; and these substitutes always answer one purpose where the old thing answered ten. The modern man will wave a cigarette instead of a stick; he will cut his pencil with a little screwing pencil-sharpener instead of a knife; and he will even boldly offer to be warmed by hot water pipes instead of a fire. I have my doubts about pencil-sharpeners even for sharpening pencils; and about hot water pipes even for heat. But when we think of all those other requirements that these institutions answered, there opens before us the whole horrible harlequinade of our civilization. We see as in a vision a world where a man tries to cut his throat with a pencil-sharpener; where a man must learn single-stick with a cigarette; where a man must try to toast muffins at electric lamps, and see red and golden castles in the surface of hot water pipes.
This is not precisely the complain that modern technology doesn’t work, but it’s tied to it, for modern technology being more complicated, it is more prone to failure. And nowhere is this more true than in computers, which in general barely work. (I say this as a professional programmer.) But even when they barely work, they are marvelous things, allowing us to do all sorts of marvelous things like write and read blog posts. And whenever these things which barely worked in the first place do fail, we get very frustrated by it. Which is natural enough; but I try to remind myself of how close all modern technology comes to not working, and to remember that even if computers and phones and such work 99% of the time, it is still when they work that is the exception, not when they fail. For all their success is snatched from failure. It is really a miracle that they work at all. It’s not accurate to the small picture, exactly, but it is accurate to the big picture. We live in an enchanted world, and it’s healthy to remember all he millions of men who have lived and died without ever having placed a single telephone call, or whose computer never booted up at all because it would be several centuries until the invention of electricity on demand.
God bless you.