Decline and Fall

I was thinking the other day about the dying institution of marriage. The mystery I’m writing involves an inheritance which, in turn, hangs on the outdated concept of legitimacy.

Mind you, I’m all for dropping any stigma (if any remains) on being born “out of wedlock.” But honestly, older people, if you had been asked in your youth what major changes might occur in your lifetime, would you have predicted indifference to the presence or absence of marriage vows? Of substituting “if it works out” for “till death do us part”?

Anyway, I sat down and tried to come up with other dying institutions that I had thought would live forever. Lo and behold, nearly every one that occurred to me involved reading and writing — one of the core complexes of life for likely readers of this blog.

I had occasion to write something down for one of my grandsons not long ago. He frowned at the note – I thought my handwriting was the problem. I got no farther than, “Oh, sorry, that word’s….,” when he rushed to reassure me. “Oh, it’s okay, Grandma. I can read cursive script.” He can’t write it, though. The schools now teach printing, not writing, because who writes anything longer than a grocery list anymore?

Letters (in the sense of correspondence) no longer exist. Their factual content is now transmitted through email. Their creative, imaginative, playful and literary qualities are just gone. (Worse: their playful qualities are have shrunk and hardened into emoticons created by some wretch chained in an office cubicle.) Email is to letter-writing as tweeting is to thinking.

Now that apps have homogenized all forms of information transfer, “writing down” is no longer a distinct activity with defined functions in society. Do our grandchildren get the point of “The Typewriter,” the famous piece of music that duplicates the rhythm of typewriter keys, the ding of the bell at the end of the carriage and the slam of the carriage return? This tune, without comment, once conveyed “composition” or “news reporting.” (Click the link to hear the Vienna Philharmonic play it, with percussionist Martin Breinschmid on the typewriter.)

Editors are as the dodo. I am still unpublished, but I hear by the grapevine that publishers no longer employ such people. Or if they do, the evidence has vanished from much of what is published. My blogging colleague Eleanor Ingbretson recently read a mystery involving that nasty marine animal, the leech. It was spelled “leach” throughout. WTH. You know what I meant. (That link will take you to the blog of the same name, where you will find fellow mourners of the craft of words.)

(Subcategory of the above: use of the subjunctive. And don’t get me started on “may” and “might.”)

Paper is gone, too, or at least unnecessary. I think text is made of electrons now, but I really haven’t the faintest idea. Vandals burned the monastery libraries of Europe; hackers may yet wipe out War and Peace.

We have lived in the age of the Antonines, and Commodus is upon us. (Don’t bother me with questions when I’m being crotchety. Google it.)

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About Heidi Wilson

I'm currently writing a mystery that takes place in New Hampshire and a novel about an artist who's working in Ireland and Hell. Former incarnations: stock market economist and professor of Greek. Go figure.

Posted on June 4, 2017, in blogging, books, editing, Eleanor Ingbretson, Heidi Wilson, reading, Uncategorized, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Heidi, I could go through this essay of yours (if it were in print) jotting “Yep,” “Yes,” “Amen, sister,” and “Absolutely” in the margins on practically every line. Thank you for reminding me of “The Typewriter”–I hadn’t thought about it in years and so enjoyed Googling it (the link here didn’t work) and listening with glee. And I was struck by the aptness of your mention of the Antonines. Is email the modern equivalent of the Antonine Plague (with emoticons as the telltale pock marks)? By the way, I make it a point to send at least one hand-written note or letter each week.

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    • I think Facebook is probably the Antonine plague, if we rate things by their ability to propagate horrors. Thanks for the heads-up on the link. I’ve got it fixed (I think) on the web site, though who knows with electrons?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. And cursive expresses us! I love the idea of graphology — it’s probably all a crock, but I feel that the pushed-from-below upstrokes in my signature are deeply expressive of… something or other.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. OK, I won’t ask. Thanks for the warning! I just read that we can use cursive as a form of “code” to keep secrets from younger people. Not certain I know what secrets we might have to keep from them. I do know that handwritten census sheets are a royal pain when you are doing genealogy research. Letters are misread by transcribers and names misspelled by census-takers. Yet the cursive is beautiful. I digress…

    Liked by 1 person

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