Me­dia in Mar­i­lynne Robin­son’s Gilead Tril­ogy

The Iowa Review - - CONTENTS - John Durham Peters

Ire­cently made an ex­pe­di­tion onto Face­book and found the fol­low­ing bids for my at­ten­tion:

“Never-be­fore-seen Let­ter on Doubt by Hugh B. Brown.” “9 Ways to Quit Sugar for Good.” “He Snarled at Ev­ery­one Who Went Near His Cage. But When THIS Woman Comes Along? UN­BE­LIEV­ABLE!” “10 Words Ev­ery Girl Should Learn.” “8 Un­be­liev­ably Dif­fi­cult Yoga Poses You Have to See to Be­lieve.” “Click here to watch a video of a freak ac­ci­dent that hap­pened to this surfer.” “This video of baby bears wrestling is the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen in my en­tire life.” “Watch This Dad’s Re­ac­tion to Kids Tex­ting at Din­ner.”

Be­hold the items on the menu: trea­sure un­veiled, the prom­ise of self­mas­tery, the mys­tery of the hu­man-an­i­mal bond, the strug­gle for recog­ni­tion, the spec­ta­cle of the body con­torted or in pain, the will to ado­ra­tion, doubt and be­lief in all their col­ors, and, fi­nally, a well-placed re­buke of the abuse of so­cial me­dia, of course brought to you by so­cial me­dia. Ev­ery­thing is there ex­cept for pol­ished English us­age. A sim­ple log-on un­furled the en­cy­clo­pe­dia of the hu­man cir­cus be­fore my eyes. What was I sup­posed to do with this se­ries of come-ons? It took some hard­ness of heart, but I ig­nored them like beg­gars in the street, do­nat­ing only a few min­utes of spare change to the “never-be­fore-seen let­ter,” which was writ­ten by some­one I re­spect on a topic I care about, though, of course, the head­line’s “never-be­fore-seen” was false. How should we live with this strange beast, the In­ter­net, that has so filled the world in the past two decades and is slurp­ing up a grow­ing share of both the hu­man race’s at­ten­tion and the planet’s elec­tri­cal sup­ply? What are the proper eth­i­cal, aes­thetic, po­lit­i­cal, and re­li­gious stances to­ward so much abun­dance and so much clamor? No one can com­pre­hend the In­ter­net’s full ex­tent, and not even the NSA, Google, or the In­ter­net Ar­chive can map it as a to­tal­ity thanks to its pay­walls and fire walls, link rot and dead links, dark web and deep web, and con­stant up­dates and dele­tions. Even lan­guage strains to keep up: gi­ant cor­po­ra­tions sport baby-talk

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