A blizzard helps us get modern

We had a little blizzard here yesterday–a foot of snow, single-digit temperatures . . . the usual.  It was bad enough that our Boston Globe couldn’t be delivered.  So we were forced to go modern, and download the digital version onto our his-and-hers iPads:

2014-01-03 08.15.14Reading a hardcopy version of the newspaper is, of course, hopelessly old-fashioned, but we’re a bit stuck in our ways.  And this reminds me of Isaac Asimov’s 1964 essay about what life would be like 50 years in the future. It was written in response to the New York World’s Fair that year–and hey, I was there!  (I don’t remember much about the exhibits he talks about, but I do recall standing on a moving walkway to view Michelangelo’s Pietà.)

Predicting the future is tough, as I realized when I re-read some of my old science fiction.

This is the sort of thing Asimov gets more or less wrong:

One thought that occurs to me is that men will continue to withdraw from nature in order to create an environment that will suit them better. By 2014, electroluminescent panels will be in common use. Ceilings and walls will glow softly, and in a variety of colors that will change at the touch of a push button.

Windows need be no more than an archaic touch, and even when present will be polarized to block out the harsh sunlight. The degree of opacity of the glass may even be made to alter automatically in accordance with the intensity of the light falling upon it.

He gets some things right, of course:

Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone. The screen can be used not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books. Synchronous satellites, hovering in space will make it possible for you to direct-dial any spot on earth, including the weather stations in Antarctica (shown in chill splendor as part of the ’64 General Motors exhibit).

Bu the most interesting prediction is probably this one:

Even so, mankind will suffer badly from the disease of boredom, a disease spreading more widely each year and growing in intensity. This will have serious mental, emotional and sociological consequences, and I dare say that psychiatry will be far and away the most important medical specialty in 2014. The lucky few who can be involved in creative work of any sort will be the true elite of mankind, for they alone will do more than serve a machine.

This hints correctly at the rise of automation and service jobs, but obviously Asimov didn’t foresee his-and-hers iPads.  How can you be bored with them?

“Pride and Prejudice” two hundred years later

A previous post reminded me that I had never read Pride and Prejudice.  So I decided to give it a try.  Here’s my experience of reading Pride and Prejudice in the modern world.

I downloaded the text for free from Amazon.  It took less than a minute to get it onto my iPad–but I got annoyed, as usual, because Apple won’t let you download Kindle books from inside the Kindle app.  The two-step process cost me an extra 20 seconds or so to get the novel to appear out of thin air.

I started reading the book on my iPad while flying 38,000 feet in the air across America.  I took advantage of the Kindle app’s built-in dictionary to tap on unfamiliar words and learn what they mean.  The words I didn’t know mainly had to do with modes of transportation in Jane Austen’s day; I now understand the difference between a curricle and a phaeton, although I’m not sure the definitions will stick in my brain.  Not much need to know those words today unless you’re reading a Jane Austen novel.

As I mentioned, I continued reading the novel while watching the final game of the 2013 World Series. Most of the players had incomes in excess of Mr. Darcy’s ten thousand pounds a year (even adjusted for inflation); however, watching them pour champagne over each other in the locker room convinced me that not even Mrs. Bennet would have found them respectable suitors for her daughters.  Also, I’m not sure any of the girls would have found those beards attractive.

I picked up the novel again while waiting to drive down to Commercial Street in Provincetown and see the somewhat unusual sights it has to offer.  This time I read the book on my iPhone; the Kindle app helpfully synced my place in the book with the furthest place I had reached on my iPad.  How does it do that?  Many of the folks I saw on Commercial Street were heading to a ball, but I don’t think the ball was anything like the one that Mr. Bingley hosted at Netherfield.  The men I encountered were, if anything, even less suitable than the baseball players.

I finished the novel while watching the Patriots destroy the Steelers on Sunday afternoon, followed by the Bears edging the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football.  Clearly neither Mr. Gronkowski nor Mr. Polomalu were suitable matches.  Nor Mr. Rogers, whose collarbone fractures so easily.  Mr. Brady would possibly have made a good husband to one of the girls, had he not scandalously sired a child out of wedlock some years ago.

At any rate, it is now 200 years since Pride and Prejudice was first published, and the world has changed.  And it is still exactly the same.  We now have a lovely new word humblebrag, and here is Mr. Darcy talking about the same thing in 1813:

“Nothing is more deceitful,” said Darcy, “than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.”

What a great novel.