Total Eclipse of the Community

Sometimes it seems like the problems of today are new – as though society once flourished and only recently fell into decay. If only we could go back, we cry, we’d be certain to regain paradise.

But just how far back would we have to go? Our grand parents? Our great-grandparents? Further?

A great post from xkcd bemoaning “the pace of modern life,” begins with this quote:

The art of letter-writing is fast dying out…We think we are too busy for such old-fashioned correspondence. We fire off a multitude of rapid and short notes, instead of sitting down to have a good talk over a real sheet of paper.

The Sunday Magazine
1871

Of course, a quote like this perhaps only reveals the dissonance between “modern” and “modernity.” Spoken casually, “modern” feels like an ever shortening window of current time – not even my floppy disks can claim to be modern any more.

“Modernity,” on the other hand, has been going on for some time. It’s more modern in a geologic sense.

And it’s somehow reassuring to read someone like John Dewey – so often seen as a bright-eyed optimist – write in 1927:

At election time, appeal to some time-worn slogan may galvanize [a voter] into a temporary notion that he has convictions on an important subjects…

The problems of today aren’t just the problems of today. They are challenges of modernity, and they didn’t spring up over night.

The public may indeed be in “eclipse,” as Dewey bemoaned, but we can still continue to search for the Great Community.

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