Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Time Doesn’t Stand Still For Books

As scientists and philosophers debate the meaning of time and seek to understand the relationship of time to things like space, distance, and matter, ordinary humans have a different conflict to iron out: How to record time.

Watches are giving way to cellphones. For the past year I put my watch in a drawer and relied on the digital glow of my iphone4 to tell me what time it was. Or I’d glance at my computer screen. Or my TV screen. It seems time is all around us, except on our wrists.

Now there’s chatter about a smartwatch, where you essentially wear a phone around your hand, ala Dick Tracey.

But I decided to go back to my watch the other day. I plunked down 15 bucks at a nearby jeweler and had them install a new battery. Do people still wind their watches?

I now feel like I have an ornament on my hand, more decoration than a functioning tool of precise measurement. Someone asked me what time it was (he must have forgotten his phone) and instead of glancing at my watch, I whipped out my smartphone to reveal it was 8:34.

Though I cling to newspapers, magazines, and books made of paper and held in my hands, I realize that I cling to the old world. It’s hard to give up what you like, what you are used to. After having known print, I don’t crave digital, but truthfully if I was born today, I think I’d only go to the digital world.

It’s faster.

It’s cheaper.

It’s updated more frequently.

It’s the new norm.

Never mind that flipping through print has its advantages when it comes to discovery. Never mind the eyes need a screen-break. Never mind that the Internet seems at times to be less accurate or centralized or authoritative. Digital is where it’s at for the new and uninitiated humans.

My watch is the same thing, in terms of where it stands in society. A watch used to serve a purpose and now it’s been replaced by our myriad devices that keep time down to the nuclear nano-second. You simply don’t need a watch -- unless you are in a place that doesn’t allow cellphone usage or your battery runs dry.

But your watch can serve as an accessory, a piece of jewelry.

People still hold onto watches. They feel sentimental. Someone gave them a watch as a gift or heirloom. They can recall learning to tell time by looking at a watch or clock with a second hand. But cards on the table: Do we really need a separate device to tell time any more than we need a second wallet or purse?

I wonder how today’s younger generation will respond to the day when cellphones become obsolete, and when any of the devices or tools they’ve come to rely on give way to other forms of communication or entertainment. The one thing that will make it easier for youths to transition to the next new thing is that they’ve been trained to accept, even look for, the next new thing at a far more rapid pace than past generations. What used to be a 30-40 year cycle of change now comes in the length of a holiday shopping season.

There is a pattern to things. First, develop a new technology -- a TV, a radio, a computer, a phone. Next, make it smaller, portable, faster, cheaper. Add more capability and functionality. Then combine multiple devices into one unit. Then, create something so new and different that it shelves the other devices.

My watch is ticking today, but time is running out for it. What used to serve a need and purpose is now just an ornament. Perhaps next time the watch won’t be replaced, but humans will.


Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do
by: Michael Sandel

Life in democratic societies is rife with disagreement about right and wrong, justice and injustice. Some people favor abortion rights and others consider abortion to be murder. Some believe fairness requires taxing the rich to help the poor, while others believe it is unfair to tax away money people earned through their own efforts. Some defend affirmative action in college admissions as a way of righting past wrongs, whereas others consider it an unfair form of reverse discrimination against people who deserve admission on their merits. Some people reject the torture of terror suspects as a moral abomination unworthy of a free society, while others defend it as a last resort to prevent a terrorist attack.

Elections are won and lost on these disagreements. The so-called culture wars are fought over them. Given the passion and intensity with which we debate moral questions in public life, we might be tempted to think that our moral convictions are fixed once and for all, by upbringing of faith, beyond reach of reason.

But if this were true, moral persuasion would be inconceivable, and what we take to be public debate about justice and rights would be nothing more than a volley of dogmatic assertions, an ideological food fight.

At its worst, our politics come close to this condition. But it need not be this way. Sometimes, an argument can change our minds.

How, then, can we reason our way through the contested terrain of justice and injustice, equality and inequality, individual rights and the common good?

One way to begin is to notice how moral reflection emerges naturally from an encounter with a hard moral question. We start with an opinion, or a conviction about the right thing to do: “Turn the trolley onto this side track.” Then we reflect on the reason for our conviction, and seek out the principle on which it was based: “Better to sacrifice one life to avoid the death of many.” Then, confronted with a situation that confounds the principle, we are pitched into confusion: “I thought it was always right to save as many lives as possible, and yet it seems wrong to push the man off the bridge (or to kill the unarmed goat-herds).”  Feeling the force of that confusion, and the pressure to sort it out, is the impulse to philosophy. 

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2013

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