A context to the human condition in more than 42 characters

The telex was an essential communication device found in all major government and business offices when I served my apprenticeship. In the last years before my retirement, the cell phone was the latest telecommunication gadget, and telex machines had been replaced by fax machines.

It goes without saying that, even as a small town municipal administrator, it was an absolute necessity that I carry a cell phone in my pocket from dawn to dusk. Once retired, over a decade ago, I decided that the sensible thing to do was to also retire my cell phone.

I have learned to get along just fine without my cell phone. The few short years I carried one did not convince me that instant communication was indispensable. I snubbed the cell phone, but I learned to appreciate to the point of enjoying some electronic communication innovations.

With my computer parked on my home desk I have access to e-mail and to the internet, an invaluable research assistant. Continuous access to the soothing sound of classical music is a cherished internet bonus.

Retirement enriched my life with an abundance of free time, a rare perk up to that point.

I took a peek at social media networks when they first appeared, but was soon horrified by what I perceived to be an invasion of my privacy. Closing the door on that level of connectedness solved the problem.

What I took to be endless he-said-she-said babble about this and that seemed to be a waste of the free time I had gained with retirement.

Surely I could make better use of that time being grandpa and reading books.

Ever since I learned to read I have had my nose in books. Momentous decisions that shaped the course and direction of my life were made from knowledge I gained from books.

Over the years I have come to regard books as the pinnacle of humanity’s evolution. Books would not stand a chance in a speed communication contest with Twitter. Time is of no consequence to books.

Books reveal an understanding of the author’s observations and the thoughts that matured in his or her mind from these observations. One of my books holds George Orwell’s 242 essays.

Orwell was not concerned about speed or the number of characters he was permitted to use to develop his ideas and to say what was on his mind.

Karl Polanyi, writing on the political and economic origins of our time, pointed to the fallacy of separating society into an economic and a political sphere. Pankaj Mishra wrote about the natural consequence of the worldwide pursuit of wealth, power, and status.

A quarter of a millennium ago Jean-Jacques Rousseau, reflecting on the direction society was heading, reached a prophetic conclusion:

“One wishes always his own good, but does not always discern it. The people is never corrupted, though often deceived, and then only does it seem to will that which is bad.”

News, both fake and real, has been around long before Twitter, Facebook and all the other electronic communication tools facilitated the colourful exchange of accusations and counter-accusations.

Human behaviour has not changed much over the past 500 years, and communication tools, whatever their speed and efficiency, cannot teach us anything about the underlying causes that drive human behaviour.

When all appears to be lost in a fog is the time when we ought to turn off our electronic gadgets and reach for a book. We can call on Orwell, Polanyi, Mishra, Rousseau, and the many other authors whose writing can help us understand not only who we are, but also where we are and how we got to be here.

Reading books, not instant messaging, is what helps me come to terms with what I cannot reason on my own.

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