Figuring It All Out
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This is Marc Porter Zasada with The Urban Man for KCRW.
The other morning, as I sat in Starbucks with a friend, the Urban Man suddenly became unduly optimistic. It happened as I was surveying a large throng of latte-drinkers bent over their glowing laptops.
"Remember The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," I asked my friend, "where that woman is sitting by herself in a café, and she comes up with the answer '42,' just before the earth is wiped out?"
"Uh huh," he replies, as he tools around on his MacBook.
"Well, sometimes I think one of us is about to figure it all out, and a much better answer than 42 — a genuine answer to life, the universe, and everything. I mean, all these cafes now have wifi and each is filled with unnumbered people accessing the wisdom of all the ages. Each hand follows ideas link to link, across a hundred million minds, and each mind is wired on two hundred grams of caffeine: You know how an infinite number of monkeys pounding on infinite keyboards will eventually write Hamlet? Maybe one of these folks will suddenly get it...and then blog it, you know before they forget.
My friend, by the way, is a famously smart guy, a professor of intellectual history at one of the local ivory towers. Even as we spoke he was pulling an obscure manuscript across the ether from the basement of the Vatican.
"Think about it," I insist. "We now create so much thought and advice on a daily basis, so much speculation on life, on sex, on human rights and wrongs, public policy and disgrace, religious tolerance and quantum physics, metaphysics, physical fitness, not to mention gardening and cooking — that surely, some vast unified theory of everything will soon occur to someone, maybe in the very next blog. Maybe in this very room."
By now I'm checking out possible candidates: a guy with a large head and a small NetBook. A together-looking blonde with six windows open on her 16 x 9. I lower my voice, just in case she's on to something.
"Call it the Big Bang Theory of the human intellect...a massive, cumulative cluster of mental energy expanding..."
Finally, my friend closes his Macbook. "So your theory is that technology is making us smarter," he asks patiently.
"Sure," I say.
"Maybe even wiser," he asks.
"It's a possibility," I waver.
"Sorry," said my friend. "Technology is nice, but I haven't noticed any particular uptick in wisdom lately. In fact, I figure there's just about the same number of wise people around as there were a thousand years ago. These days it's just harder to hear them over all the noise."
"Okay," I say. But I refuse to give up my optimism. Technology may not be the answer, but you always have to read the next blog.
And lo, as I step out into the too-bright sun of an LA. afternoon, I notice a ragged man propped in a doorway and wearing a bowler hat. I see he's not using a laptop, but a broken half-pencil, and he's scrawling many tiny words on a large stack of grubby papers. A blogger, I think, of a more ancient kind...and hey, once upon a time, didn't all the best insights come from guys thinking long important thoughts while sitting in the sun?
As I put a dollar in his Styrofoam cup, he says, "Hey, man, I gave up working so I could devote full-time to this project."
"Really?" I reply.
"Yeah, I'm studying all the world's religions, and like fitting 'em all together."
"Awesome," I say. And I was about to ask if could read his grubby stacks of paper...when I noticed another bum just down the street, scrawling his theories in a spiral notebook. And way down the block, just one bum more.
For KCRW, I'm Marc Porter Zasada with The Urban Man.
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