Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Distractions of Modernity

John Quincy Adams is one of my favorite presidents. He doesn't deserve obscurity and being the runner-up Adams (although his dad is also a great American). Even though JQA's time in office wasn't astounding, he is certainly one of the most effective ex-Presidents. After leaving the White House, he served in Congress for 17 years and fought against slavery. Now there's a public servant.

The Anchoress at First Things has a great post about JQA today, musing on his intense expressions in portraits, his penchant for skinny-dipping in the Potomac (it's true), and his impatience with being under the Presidential microscope.
“I can scarcely conceive a more harassing, teasing, wearying condition of existence.” If the foibles and nattering ankle biters were that annoying 200 years ago, imagine him being president in the day of internets, blogs, “netroots”, “wingnuts” and 24-hour-always-hungry news networks.
Perhaps it is the technology of the age that has brought affability and a gift for hucksterism to the fore in politics, and rendered them supremely consequential. I wonder how the giants who formed our nation would fare, these days, hunkering down with Chris Matthews and Barbara Walters. Would Ben Franklin’s genius be undermined or enhanced by insta-media? Would John Adams be considered too crotchety, like Bob Dole? Would George Washington be considered too staid? Would Thomas Jefferson have to endure the wrath of Keith Olbermann for daring to play his violin while something was left unresolved in the nation? Would any of them get elected under the intense scrutiny of our age, wherein - as Don Surber notes here - so many are so easily scandalized?
Oh technology. So useful but so distracting. Last night when I got home the power was out on our block. For the first time, I noticed the moonlight and insect chirping that are usually drowned out by streetlights and air conditioners. Conversations by candlelight are more peaceful, too. Surrounded by the warm glow of all the random candles from the reflection room, I finished some VSC year-end paperwork and made notes on my handbell music. I couldn't help thinking that this was how Mozart, Beethoven, and even JQA did their work. Did they get more done without Facebook or 24 hour news?

No comments: