• Gail Wilson Kenna

This early morning, 3:59 by my Fit Bit, listening to a CD, "An Oxford Evening," I have remembered an experience from 2002, when most persons weren't carrying cellphones or staring at faces on Facebook?

"A new face that July morning in Oxford: frost on the lawn, aquamarine plastic sheeting on the old stone of Merton's chapel, a strange mist in Christchurch Meadow. Ominous really, how the layer hung there between earth and sky. It was my usual hour to run that summer while studying writing at Merton. Always the same route, passing an elderly Englishman and his King Charles Spaniel. I waved at them and turned beside the Ibis, my thoughts between one thing and another as I lengthened my stride. I kept that pace until I reached the path before the bridge to the boat houses.

And there, just ahead, sprawled in the tall grass, a body in a warm-up suit, blue like the chapel's winding sheets. It was trying to stand and unable to do so. Running closer, I realized it was a man, collapsing each time he tried to rise.

I stopped dead.

Young, old? Shaven, bearded? Teeth aligned or toothless?

The blue jacket zippered over his head made him faceless.

Hearing feet on the path, I turned and saw one of the many Chinese students enrolled that summer at Merton. As the young man ran toward me, his head rotated slightly toward the heap on the grass. Then he quickened his pace and sped on.

It was then my usual impulse to help disappeared into the mist.

Something strewn on stone, something I could not resist, the fully awakened, detached, journalistic eye. Moving beyond the man, out onto the bridge, I stood there and waited, possessed by the deepest need to know…who would stop for a fallen, faceless man."

Note: That morning I did watch until no one stopped to help the man. Then I ran back to the Porter's Lodge at Merton; and the porter on duty called the Thames Valley Police. I offer this memory because I spent a sleepless night after reading Anna Applebaum's article in the December Atlantic.


Next time: What George Orwell might have to say about Applebaum's, "The Autocrats Are Winning."

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  • Gail Wilson Kenna

This short book, first published in 1985, re-printed in 2005, is worth reading. Time for reading is limited, I know. Yet you're in luck. Wikipedia has a short, well-written summary of Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death.

I'll be back next week with my 'words' on Monday. For me… the word 'blog', in both sight and sound, equals fingernails on an old blackboard! Flog and clog. What's a good word with this sound? Ah, yes! Glögg. May you enjoy some on Thursday.

In these troublesome pandemic/ political times, may Thursday be a special day of Thanksgiving… for you, your family & friends.

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  • Gail Wilson Kenna

On a recent Sunday, a 14-year-old girl, her tennis lesson over, slumped on a ratan sofa's soft cushions, a cellphone in her hands, thumbs texting, shoulders rounded, neck curved. The new posture for youth, I thought, leaving the tennis facility. The following Sunday the same girl had to quit her lesson because of a problem with her knee. At fourteen? She made me think of a recent series in the Wall Street Journal on social media and its effects. One photo from the WSJ's weekly Review showed seven youngers with cellphones, all texting, backs bent, chins on chests. What's ahead for the new Neanderthals? Oversized arthritic thumbs and heads lowered to the climate-damaged earth?

These images led me back to Marshall McLuhan and Alvin Toffler. I dug both from my library downstairs where I store books from the past. I opened the McLuhan paperback to a full-page photo of a hand, with a large thumb against an ear. Above it just two words…The Massage. The next page had two words, too. And How. Below these words was a quote.

"The major advances in civilization are processes that all but wreck the societies in which they occur." A.N. Whitehead

This made me look more carefully at Toffler's book jacket. The title is in large, bold, black letters. But between FUTURE and SHOCK are words in tiny red print. "The symptoms of future shock are with us now. This book can help us survive our collision with tomorrow." The book has been in print since 1970! And speaking of collision, Toffler made the claim that we are aboard a train gathering speed. And it is racing down a track with an unknown number of switches, leading to unknown destinations, no engineer, and demons at the switch, and most of society in the caboose looking backward.

That's me in the caboose, shaking with shock. Yet I wonder if any of my students at Napa High in the 1970s remember the day I said these remembered words. "One day you will have a small phone in your hands and receive a message beamed from satellite about your mother's birthday and not to forget it." Most scoffed at me, as teens are apt to do! Later, I showed them a film on McLuhan's ideas. And in it, Arthur C. Clarke spoke from Ceylon (later Sri Lanka) where he lived. He conveyed that in the future everyone would have a number and never be lost, all of us connected by satellites.

To be continued next week…

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