I’ve been a fan of The Sun for years now. As with anything, my feelings about it ebb and flow, but the March 2009 issue reminded me what a treasure this publication is. I read it front to back, every word. Each piece seemed to build on and enhance my experience of the previous one. I cried and laughed. I was challenged intellectually and emotionally. And when I came to the final word of Sunbeams — “irreplaceable” — I realized that’s just what I think this magazine is.
Patricia Brieschke’s essay “All of Me” [March 2009] is beautiful, but I’m puzzled when she writes of having had “four children (a boy and a girl with each husband)” and then later says that she took her second husband at the age of fifty.
It is hard to fathom how, with her body ravaged by an eating disorder, she had two children after fifty years of age. If she did, then I want to hear that story.
Patricia Brieschke responds:
Janie Savage observes correctly that I married my second husband at the age of fifty. My reproductive capacity had come to an end, mostly due to age rather than an eating disorder. My twins — a gift to my husband, who did not want to adopt — were born later the same year, when my older children were already in their twenties. The birth couldn’t have happened without the help of a young woman from California who donated her eggs. It is, indeed, another story, one full of joy, trepidation, and suspense, but it’s my twins’ story to tell.
I completely agree with Nicholas Carr’s theory about how computers and the Internet are rewiring our brains [“Computing the Cost,” interview by Arnie Cooper, March 2009]. I used to read more books before I got my first computer in 2002. Now I’m on a computer all day long at work, and books don’t seem to hold my attention anymore. I got about halfway through President Obama’s The Audacity of Hope before I laid it on my coffee table, where it still rests.
The Internet is a useful tool, a means to an end, whether you are in search of esoterica or airline reservations. When society begins to view the Internet as an end unto itself, however, we sacrifice our humanity. As Nicholas Carr says, we lose our capacity for introspection and contemplation and even endanger the quality of our interpersonal relationships. We deprive ourselves of all sensory input save for what’s displayed on the two-dimensional monitor.
Though I enjoy my computer, I will never surrender my books. Reading is a sensory experience: the solidity of a hardcover or the suppleness of a paperback; the friction of fingertips on pulpy pages; the smell of ink and paper. Who ever curled up on a rainy day with a good computer?
Maybe Nicholas Carr suffers from some suburban malady other than Google-itis. I have been in front of a computer for nearly twenty-five years now and globally connected since before most people had heard of the Internet. As a lifelong knowledge seeker, I find search engines extremely gratifying. I still have time to read and comprehend good books and take long hikes. We can all choose how to spend our time, whether or not we have a computer.
Nicholas Carr says the increasing use of computers is wiring human brains to think superficially and quickly rather than more deeply. I think he needs to realize that only a small minority of people read sophisticated literature or engage in deep thinking. How many ancients knew about Socrates, Aristotle, or Plato? It’s the same today.
Deep engagement with classic literature may enrich our lives, but it doesn’t guarantee moral behavior. Many Nazis were very well educated and still committed heinous acts during World War II.
Since most people are unconcerned with deep philosophical thinking, it seems that the computer is a step forward for the rest of humanity. Wide access to information is better than ignorance. Those who are already inclined to think deeply will not be thwarted by the computer. It is not an either/or choice.
I enjoyed reading Nicholas Carr’s opinions about the Internet, but I disagree with his hypothesis that “Google is making us stupid.” Undoubtedly the overwhelming amount of information available on the Internet is changing the way we think, but we are not losing anything in the process. Perhaps we are even gaining skills as we learn to consider sources more critically and select the most relevant or most interesting from a tide of information.
Carr says, “[Google’s ethic] wants to make us fast, efficient collectors of information, in many ways mimicking computers.” I believe that the effect of Google, and the Internet in general, is more the opposite: it diminishes the value of memorizing facts, figures, and procedures and shifts the role of human intelligence to critical thinking, conceptual synthesis, and the ability to learn new ideas quickly. In the future intelligence may be measured not by how well people can memorize bits of data but by how well they can process and make use of them.
I am a former “Internet professional” who was separated from the Internet two years ago when I was arrested and sent to prison. Some of my friends joked that I would not be able to survive without a constant stream of data at my fingertips, but I’ve made it. Life unplugged is slower for certain, but whether or not it is more contemplative is, I believe, a matter of choice. If I had my choice, I would get my news from CounterPunch and the Huffington Post rather than MSNBC and CNN.
On the other hand, if I were able to go online, I may also have never taken the time to appreciate The Sun.
I am offended by Paul Krassner’s comments in your February 2009 issue [“In the Jester’s Court,” interview by David Kupfer]. He says that it’s unfair to generalize about the humorlessness of any group, yet he stands on his soapbox, in his drug-induced paranoia, and spouts generalizations about our troops who are in harm’s way in Iraq. Krassner states that they are battering down doors and killing innocents, then going to the pharmacy for their Prozac. It’s true that in war sometimes innocent lives are lost, but Krassner says our troops are just walking into houses and killing everyone. In fact our troops are targeting people who are collaborating with or harboring known terrorists. These people bring their fate upon themselves. They are no different from the Japanese who used churches to build bombs during World War II or Hamas, which uses schools to cache weapons.
Our servicemen and -women die daily to preserve our freedom and liberty as well as our national security. Every one of them is a true hero. Krassner should appreciate the sacrifices they have made to protect the rights he so freely exercises. And he should use his creativity to do something that benefits society rather than smoking weed on a daily basis, traveling to Egypt for Grateful Dead shows, and getting Groucho Marx to take LSD. Those are not very substantial accomplishments in my book.
After reading the interview with Paul Krassner, I spent the night wondering whether he and I live on the same planet. I wouldn’t bother writing, except I always think it is worth trying to communicate with people who believe they are intelligent and enlightened and witty but have smoked too many joints and lost all ability to understand anyone different from themselves.
I am seventy-seven and grew up with Krassner and his confederates Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman — clowns who sought publicity in every way possible. They didn’t amuse me then, and Krassner doesn’t amuse me now. But I realize that aging radicals have to make a living, too, so I have tolerated Krassner, even though he is not tolerant of anybody who disagrees with him.
Krassner is proud of having provided an abortion-referral service when it was still illegal to do so. I have been an abortion protester for thirty-five years. Abortion is a violent solution, fraught with psychological damage for the mother and death for the child. Men like Krassner could not possibly comprehend its effects, especially while high on drugs. What is more, thanks to legalized abortion, the afterlife has been flooded with millions and millions of embryonic human beings for the angels to raise. How is that for a hard job? (But then, angels volunteer for hard jobs.)
I am a new subscriber, and I hope to God that you have some people like me lined up to interview, to balance this rag out. I am still open to whatever changes will help me to think and live better. My most recent change was to become a vegan and to quit eating for entertainment. I am the only seventy-seven-year-old woman I know who is still healthy enough to have sex, if only I could find a partner who’s not on drugs or an alcoholic. In this world, such men are hard to find, but I keep looking.
Paul Krassner responds:
I don’t feel the need to defend myself against the deeply felt prejudices behind the letter writers’ subjective misinterpretations. I would rather leave it to other readers of The Sun to reach their own conclusions about my values, my actions, and my state of mind.
Sy Safransky begins his October 2008 Notebook, “My daughter Mara is getting married next week.” I wondered when I read this whether she is the same daughter who was in the car accident a while back. By the end of the page, Safransky writes, “Seven years ago Mara was in a car accident that almost took her life.”
I realized then that I have been subscribing to The Sun for almost seven years. The first issue I received was right after 9/11 and included a Sunbeams supplement of quotations to ponder in relation to the tragedy. I still have the supplement. Over the years I feel as if The Sun and its staff have become my friends. I am amazed that I can feel this way about a magazine.