Sunday, March 14, 2010


David Gelernter has a reputation, apparently well-deserved, as an Internet prophet. In a piece at, he surveys the past, present status, and future prospects of the Behemoth I am now utilizing. Here is the money quote:

"Nowness is one of the most important cultural phenomena of the modern age: the western world’s attention shifted gradually from the deep but narrow domain of one family or village and its history to the (broader but shallower) domains of the larger community, the nation, the world. The cult of celebrity, the importance of opinion polls, the decline in the teaching and learning of history, the uniformity of opinions and attitudes in academia and other educated elites — they are all part of one phenomenon. Nowness ignores all other moments but this."

I admit to being a bit of a skeptic here. Isn't the proclamation of the pressing problem of nowness itself a symptom of nowness? After all, daily newspapers have existed since the late 18th century. Gossip, an annoying tick of human socialization that we can't seem to get rid of, relies on the freshness of the (pseudo)information. Nobody cares about old gossip--except perhaps historians.

Speaking of historians, they have long recognized something called "presentism," usually to decry it. However, Benedetto Croce (seconded by his English disciple Collingwood) held that all history--at least history that is worth its salt--is present history. That is to say that only in the present, as we rethink the past, does the past actually live.

Since at least the time of Saussure a hundred years ago, most who have reflected on the issue have regarded a balance of the synchronic (the now) with the diachronic (the longitudinal aspect) as essential.

Gelernter seems to think that the Next Big Thing will be a restoration of the diachronic dimension through something he calls lifestreaming. I am not sure that I understand, and I am not sure that he does either. But there are bound to be further major changes in that vast phenomenon of the wired community, aka the Hive. Amor fati--et futuri.



Blogger Arsinoe said...

The Edge website is (NOT .com)

David Gelernter comments can be found at

11:34 PM  

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