Friday, February 10, 2017

News seems to move faster than small boys can scramble and dart to tell it

From The Pearl by John Steinbeck. Omitted are the detailed examples from the story. This is Steinbeck's insight as to how news travels.
A town has a nervous system and a head and shoulders and feet. A town is a thing separate from all other towns, so that there are no two towns alike. A town has a whole emotion. How news travels through a town is a mystery not easily to be solved. News seems to move faster than small boys can scramble and dart to tell it, faster than women can call over fences . . . The news swept on past the brush houses . . .

The news came to the shopkeepers . . . The news came to the doctor . . . The news came early to the beggars in the church . . . The news stirred up something infinitely black and evil in the town; the black distillate was like the scorpion, or like hunger in the smell of food, or like loneliness when love is withheld . . . and the town swelled and puffed with the pressure of it.
In the story, Steinbeck is describing a small town in Mexico but the dynamics of such communication are contemporary. We don't call the news over the fence but we blog, we text, we comment on social media. The result should be light and transparency but too often is some miasma of black distillate.

The technology of communication is always subverted by the human nature - where human nature is constructive and affirmative, the amplifying effect of communication is marvelous. Where the human nature is sour, bitter and malevolent, then the magnifying effect of communication technology is detrimental.

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