HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

May 5, 2008
From the Editor

John Turner


I'm in Washington this week, helping my daughter remodel her kitchen. We're doing only a partial revamping, but the cost of it, even with our free labor, will be about four times what it cost our parents to buy a whole house when they were starting out in life. Money's not what it used to be, as we say. That's very true, but it's the case not only with money but with so many of the values of life I feel I'm almost in a different universe from the one I inhabited when I was young.

I wonder what would happen to my mind if I were -- somehow -- to live another hundred years. Would it just explode?

I promised last week I would tell you how my book talk in Waterbury went, particularly the part about the corruptions of power. Most of the participants agreed with me that power is corrupting. But they seemed able to take it more for granted than I can. For them, the effects of power are like gravity -- annoying sometimes, but there they are and there's little you can do about them. They are wiser -- or at least less naive -- than I.

Yesterday, I saw at least six motorcycle drivers going along the Washington beltway at more than a hundred miles an hour. Is that a spirit of adventure, or is it suicidal? Or is it something different from either that I can't imagine?

My brother has a new TV set which cost not even twice as much as the houses of our youth. I have to say the quality of the picture on a new, large, flat screen, high-definition television is fairly amazing. The part I find most impressive is the detail of interior environments -- the vases on tables, the handles on cabinets, the clarity of pictures on the wall. What I don't know is whether, after one gets used to that level of clarity, the effect of watching a program will be greater than what one can get from my ordinary TV set at home. Most people would probably say, no. But, after watching the new dispensation, I'm not so sure.

On the technology front, I continue to explore my Kindle. It's very good in the way I expected. It permits me to take a whole library around with me. But what may be just as valuable is that I'm able to have all my own writings available whenever I want them. You can send a document of any size to Amazon, and for the gigantic price of ten cents, they will convert it to Kindle format and send it back to your machine. This makes possible not only access to one's own writings but possession of any anthology of writings you may have decided to put together from online publications. One can do that also with a computer, and it's a thing I've been in the habit of doing. But having all the text you want -- even the most recent publications -- in a device you can carry around as though it were an appointment book marks an additional  level of convenience.

If I had had all this stuff available to me when I was in graduate school, I might now be the president of Harvard University. So, it's a good thing it didn't come that quickly. But having it now is, for me, a useful condition. The new electronic technology may be the only thing I have known that occurred in time exactly when I needed it. That gives me hope I may be able to look forward to new knees, a new back, even a new heart twenty years hence. Who knows? I don't guess there's anything wrong with hoping.

I'll still be in Washington next week at this time, so I'll let you know if I've observed anything that will affect your future.


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