The prattle deluge


PROGRESSIVE people scoff at my refusal to accept faxes and use electronic mail. They think it a pose, an effort to portray myself as a colorfully quaint character like Titus Moody.

It was Titus Moody, you recall, who, when asked by Fred Allen what he thought of radio, replied, "I don't hold with furniture that talks."

My resistance to faxes and E-mail owes nothing to such benighted hatred of the modern. Whether it be just plain up-to-date, modern, neo-modern, postmodern or the wave of the future, I accept it as I accept the weather. As John Carr of The Sun wrote in the best one-sentence weather story ever killed by a city editor, "Every day we have some weather, and yesterday was no exception."

Modernity and waves of the future are like that. Every day we have some, and I embrace as many as I can cope with. I have embraced the new washday miracle, the Hydramatic transmission, the flip-top box and the pop-top can.

I refused to embrace diet cola, but provide it at friends' requests. It is boorish to deny one of modernity's blessings to others simply because it is not to your personal taste.

I have eagerly embraced each of the writing-tool industry's lunges into the future, mastering in turn the lead pencil, the fountain pen, the ballpoint pen that could write under water, the desk-model manual typewriter, the portable manual typewriter, the electric typewriter and the electronic word processor.

When it reaches the market I will joyously embrace the miraculous new electronic word processor that produces English compositions of flawlessly graceful style, devastating wit and heartbreaking poignancy while its owner naps on a nearby couch.

The fax and E-mail, of course, must be blessings as priceless to today's business world as the new washday miracle was to me in 1954. When a millisecond's pause in the flow of information may topple industrial empires the instantaneousness of fax and E-mail is indispensable.

I envy the ease with which great engines of capitalism cope with the incessant flow of reading matter. My capacity is not up to it. Since a fax and E-mail would only add to the gusher of incoming wordage, I refuse to let them into the house.

A new machine is needed here. Many years ago I proposed that someone clever invent the Brussels-sprout-eating machine, a small portable device which, placed beside a plate at any table where Brussels sprouts are served, would eat them politely. Since this comparatively simple machine is still uninvented, I have little hope that we shall soon see the reading-material-reading machine.

This device would be fed a day's supply of newspapers, incoming letters, junk mail, magazines and books that absolutely must be read, and digest it all in 10 or 15 minutes.

The machine's owner would then attach electrodes to the skull, hit a few keys and in two or three seconds have all this pre-read material distributed to those parts of the brain where it would do the most good.

When this machine is available I may be able to add fax and E-mail, but only if American, or possibly Japanese, ingenuity has produced the above-mentioned new word-processing miracle which writes while the author sleeps.

The problem is: How is all that incoming mail to be answered? At present this desk has about 15 recent conventionally mailed letters that should have been answered fairly fully a week ago. More will come tomorrow. The tide comes in every day at the mail slot.

That other pile on the desk is of letters that should have been answered months ago. Groveling apologies to their writers will have to be composed, but meanwhile there are all these cataloges to be studied for bargains. Not to mention today's three still-untouched newspapers and a heavy chunk of Sunday's New York Times.

Hold everything: Here is a friend's book that must be read fast, which means interrupting the reading of this engrossing book about the development of the American branch of the English language. When will there ever be time to get to Turgenev's "A Sportsman's Notebook," which I intended to start last month, but put aside to read first this brilliant new biography of Emerson?

And that telephone! Will it never stop ringing? No faxes, please. No E-mail, thank you.

Russell Baker is a syndicated columnist.

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