welcome to the 19th century 10.10.2005, 12:30 AM
posted by ben vershbow
The following was posted by Gary Frost as a comment to our post on Neil Postman's "Building a Bridge to the 18th Century." Gary recently returned from the Mississippi coast where he was part of a team helping to assess library and museum damage after Katrina.
The mystic advise that we walk into the darkness. Postman's only qualification is that we do futurism with the right gear. But we cannot wander off into the future with enough AA batteries. An archeologist at the storm damaged Jefferson Davis presidential library greeted me saying; "Welcome to the19th century." He was not kidding. No water, no electricity, no gas, no groceries. He was digging up the same artifacts for the second time in the immense debris fields left by Katrina.
We were driven to a manuscript era and we were invigorated to do our best. Strangely the cell phones worked and we talked to Washington from the 19th century. We asked if the Nation was still interested in the culture of the deep south. Not really, Transformers were at work and in our mobile society the evacuees had left for good. The army trucks were building new roads over the unmarked gravesites of 3000 Confederate veterans, who in their old age, came to Jeff Davis' home to die.
We were left hanging about the future and technologies were a sidebar. It wasn't really important that the 19th century had invented instantaneous communication, digital encoding or photographic representation or that the 21st century was taking the credit for its exploitation of these accomplishments. The gist was that the future deserved to be informed and not deluded. The gist was that the future would be fulfilled as a measure of its use of the accomplishments of a much longer past.
Posted by ben vershbow on October 10, 2005 12:30 AM
tags: Libraries, Search and the Web, archive, book, books, confederacy, confederate, digital, gulf, gulf_coast, history, hurricane, hurricane_katrina, jefferson_davis, katrina, library, literature, mississippi, paper, preservation, progress, reading, rescue, south, technology
kim white on October 10, 2005 10:03 PM:
This is beautiful Gary. Makes me wonder if the speed of media cycles and the disposableness of consumer culture has created a climate of apathy toward the preservation of our cultural heritage? And, to go along with your final thought, if the noise of present technologies is distracting us from the contempletive work of building this "future" (I'm putting the word in quotes because I'm having a moment--realizing how much we kind of throw that word around). Anyway, I'm with you, I hope we can make a future that is something more than "slick". Something human, with a reverent understanding of the long line of humans that went before.