I’m Talking to You, Glenn Beck
I heard an advertisement on KYW Newsradio the other day for Dragon voice recognition software. The breathless announcer read some stumbling words accompanied by the sound of a hunt-and-peck keyboard, something to the tune of “Sometimes it takes you so long to type what you want to say that you forget what you want to say.” The solution is to buy Dragon’s software , which lets you simply talk and captures your words in type. This is perfect for bloggers, the commercial noted, because now you can just say what you think and have it preserved for posterity!
God save us from the Dragon.
You could make a compelling argument that the quality of writing in the world is directly related to the physical labor involved in producing that writing. In other words, when writers sat licking the nibs of feather quills and dipping them into wells of ink they created themselves by boiling hawthorne branches, you got Chaucer and Dante and Aquinas and Boccaccio. The invention of the printing press allowed books to be more easily disseminated, but the original writing was still done by hand, which explains Shakespeare and Cervantes and everybody else we still read in school (or should read in school). After the invention of the typewriter, some authors still clung old-fashionedly to pen and paper, like Graham Greene, who said, “My two fingers on a typewriter have never connected with my brain. My hand on a pen does.” But they were dinosaurs, antediluvian creatures plodding through a rapidly evolving landscape of electronic typewriters and word processors and computers, all progress driven by an increasing need for speed. Remember when there was no FedEx—when nothing in the universe absolutely, positively had to get there overnight? [SIGNUP]
And here comes the Dragon, ready to remove the last remaining filter between the crap that spews out of our mouths and the printed page. Glory hallelujah. This lack of filter is what’s made “stars” out of bottom-feeders like Glenn Beck and Nancy Grace and Rush Limbaugh. It’s the very heart of Twitter: instantaneous transmission to millions of your least significant thoughts! For some perverse reason, our culture has come to believe that what is immediate and unconsidered is somehow more “real” and important than what is reasoned and pondered and studied at length. We distrust “experts,” preferring instead the ad hoc utterances of Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber—the common woman and man.
Beck’s new book, The Overton Window, is a shining example of the New Literature the thought-to-mouth movement has spawned. Though Beck’s heroes live in old-fashioned cabins surrounded by “things [that] had been built and woven and carved and finished by skilled, loving hands,” his book, written by an entire committee employing the latest in technological innovation, reads, according to a review by Ben Dimiero and Simon Maloy of Media Matters, “like someone just transcribed Beck’s radio shows and put them into a novel.” The result, they conclude, is “truly and remarkably awful.”
If you can’t remember what you meant to say long enough to type it out, maybe it isn’t worth saying. The pen didn’t just link Graham Greene’s mind to the page; it linked his soul as well.
SANDY HINGSTON is a Philly Mag senior editor.