For a while of late I’ve been thinking about layers in culture. Such thoughts occur when I’m away from the artificial stimulations of the media, engaged in the relatively boring chores of just plain living. Writing about the noosphere is in part responsible for such reflections. Well, today, I felt that sense sharply intensified. An old friend of ours is retiring from Gale Research, the publisher, after thirty-some-odd years of service as a reference book editor. Brigitte and I were invited to make contributions to a book. Our friend will get that object as a parting gift at the ceremonies of departure.
The past, and that layer beneath the hype, thickened and densified as I wrote my contribution—and read the words that flowed from my fingers spontaneously. And with it came the realization that life sucked clear of the fogs and dusts of the swirling noosphere hasn’t changed very much at all since—to pick a year at random—1955. That’s the layer where people get married and grow old, where children take piano lessons and adults participate in choirs, where rugby is played and dogs are walked, where jobs are sought, gotten, and grow into careers.
The differences we observe down at this level are really trivial. We remember the changes that came and seemed transforming—because the human mind is always alert and eager to adapt. But on reflection the qualities that mattered then still matter, and the blunt fact is that you rapidly get used to things like Xerography, electric typewriters and calculators, to computers, internets, and digital TV—but something must me produced to be copied, the words have to be good before you type them, the numbers can be scary whether you tote them up by pen or keystrokes, the news reached us then as now, and our minds have become steeled against them and grow ever more resistant the faster the hail rattles down on the tin roof. And the news are much the same—as we can prove by demanding of the genii that it summon up old archives. Amazing how intensely people once felt about matters long since forgotten…
Boredom is good. It reminds you of values. You realize that beneath the raging storms of change, culture endures. It isn’t left untouched by all that stuff rushing about in the invisible electromagnetic flux, but that too we get used to. Gale Research. It was a wholly owned, relatively small, but very prestigious reference book company still headed, when we encountered it, by its founder. Our friend already worked there then. The company was twice sold since, first to the Canadian publishing giant Thomson, then spun off to Cengage Learning. Managements came and went. Slogans flourished like mushrooms and wilted almost instantly. One new enthusiasm after the other was organized in, organized out, in-sourced, out-sourced—and endured. All this hoopla caused a lot of laughter, down there, in ordinary life. And things went on, adapting, struggling, battling—as they had long before we became members of the publishing tribe. At the working level things endure. Some things must. And will. As Martha Stewart would say, It’s a good thing.