Clive Thompson’s book title, at first blush, seems to position it on the self-help/self-esteem list, but the graphics tell more of the story. Though you can get a hint of the book’s intent from the subtitle (How Technology Is Changing Our Minds For The Better), the cover design perfectly depicts the composite pixellation of your head transitioning into clarity. In his chapter on public thinking, Thompson analyzes the blogosphere and how that has transformed private thoughts into open monologues and in some cases dialogues or forums. Thompson quotes the poet Cecil Day-Lewis to make his point: “We do note write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.”
Amen. Writing can even be a cathartic exercise. Complete the phrase: “Were it not for (fill in your favorite time filler), I would be ___________ “. You hobby doesn’t have to be writing or reading. It might be any form of the arts, entertainment, sports, and so on. The place you would be were it not for your outlet might be engaging in some form of, shall we say, less than productive time filler. Were it not for shopping or photography or jogging you might be on the psychiatrist’s couch.
Disclaimer: My mother died at age 62, one of psychiatry’s greatest failures. Buying prescription drugs from Canada is popular now due to cost savings, but back in the early 1960s it was the portal for experimental drugs not yet approved in the U.S. Cost wasn’t the issue; availability was. Mom fought a valiant battle across the corpus callosum, moments of cease fire between warring factions of her brain becoming fewer and further between. After shock therapy went out of style, mother was among the first patients in the U.S. who used Lithium, and I distinctly recall helping my father pack gelatin capsules with powder the consistency of baking soda. A boyhood friend who was a pharmacist helped him obtain Lithium powder from Canada upon the recommendation of her psychiatrist. Once Lithium failed to stabilize her, she was among the first experimental subjects in the U.S. for Haldol. Ultimately no drug proved to be a worthy opponent for mom’s biochemistry, which apparently had a mind of its own. My mother died in a nursing home in 1987, her brain ravaged by treatments that succeeded in little beyond attrition to the point where she ultimately lost all sense of time, space, and sense of self or others.
A couple of days ago I got word that an acquaintance, coincidentally also age 62, had died “unexpectedly”. That’s often a code word for natural causes that weren’t anticipated by those who knew the deceased – a heart attack or a brain aneurysm two causes high on the list. It might also be a code word for self-inflicted death prompted by the desire to end hidden misery or shield one’s loved ones through mitigating circumstances. That thought is almost gauche to consider, though why suicide is held to be such a private matter sometimes escapes me. In my mother’s time we had relatives that felt it was bad karma to talk about any form of illness, yet alone the circumstances of death. There are all kinds of books these days on dying with grace, yet somehow the decision to end one’s life due to immense psychic pain is entirely dissociated from the decision to end one’s life due to unbearable physical pain, the former still held to be an act of dis-grace and the latter an act of compassion.
Another acquaintance remarked about a college President we knew, who thrived on making eulogies that always included the phrase: “An untimely death”. My friend once asked him: “So is there any death that is timely”? Some of us may not be as smart as we think. Yet we continue to write, pursuing the desire to understand.