I learnt two new words today: ‘Jeremiad’ and ‘Miserabilism’ courtesy of Darran Anderson, my go-to for intellectual tough when it all gets a bit woolly out there in blogland. So a jeremiad (named after the dismal prophet Jeremiah) is a moralistic text lamenting society’s ills and possibly its doom. Miserabilism is what it is. Anderson tells us that Eliot known for his modernism wrote a jeremiad about modernity (interesting contradiction), read it here. Seems that a decent jeremiad is like a good debate with a dose of fear added. Fear of change. Fear of the future.
Eliot in his jeremiad says ‘When electrical ingenuity has made it possible for every child to hear its bed-time stories through a wireless receiver attached to both ears…it will not be surprising if the population of the entire civilized world rapidly follows the fate of the Melanesians.’* My inner Jeremiah eyed this sentence prophetically in conjunction with a study referred to here. In this study a group of 20 kids were found to have stronger text focusing abilities when read to by recorded narration with highlighted words than they did when a parent or a caregiver narrated the same story to them on the same device. I had to ask myself was I a bit of a miserabilist by limiting my kids’ access to recorded narrations of their favourite stories such as ‘The Lorax’ or ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’? The answer was no. There’s no ominous depth to the reasoning. I’m just too vain to let an iPad steal my legacy. I want my kids to remember me as the person who tucked them in and read to them in funny voices and put up with the irritating interruptions and inane questions. That’s the shallow extent of my miserabilism there.
The literary world has its fair share of miserabilists. Writers tend to be gloomy and publishing is the last of the entertainment media to go through the digital transformation. It’s understandable and quite pleasing that publishing/writing types will always have a mental armchair planted in the halcyon days of cigars, brandy and leather-bound books, but to genuinely live in that ideal is crazy. Here we are bang in the centre of what the futurist David Houle calls ‘the shift age’ – the most fascinating time in publishing since the Guttenberg Bible and there are still people in the book world, be they writers, agents or publishers who think that ebooks will go away, that Amazon is evil (or even more evil than any other corporate global) and that reading isn’t real reading if it’s not done on paper with folios and running heads. The worst lament of all is that the existence of ebooks negates the existence of print books. See? The tendency towards doom. It comes naturally to book people. As someone who writes in an industry littered with the last of the mega miserabilists here’s a coping mechanism that works for me: Make up some miserabilisms of your own so you can compete, jeremiad scale with the whingers if needs be.
Here are two I made earlier:
Miserabilism No. 1) Facebook is Orwellian and will lead to a dystopian society based on the ‘liking’ of really boring pics of cats/babies of people you hardly know. You will also find yourself being ‘friends’ with an ex you still have nightmares about and spent years trying to getting rid of diplomatically. Civilisation will descend into a pyramid selling/chain-lettering creepy nagging hell where you will sit all day with your finger on a keyboard ‘liking’ what Facebook Police tell you to like before you’ve even thought of what it is you like.
Miserabilism No. 2) Parenting will be superseded by the iPad/Kindle and civilization will get so bored off their nuts with the homogenous offspring raised by iPads/Kindles that human beings will stop fancying each other and stop having sex and a dying generation of white haired half-bald pre-native digitalists will sit around reminiscing about the good ole days when they fancied a real human being for their quirks and strange accents and for the times when they had to work out what a person meant when they said ‘Throw us over that buke there!’ Great grandkids, if such a phenomenon exists in the flagging libido of the ‘Tablet’ race, will be allowed to have only one of two possible names on their birth certs: Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos thus honoring the fathers of The United Devices.