We have entered the season of change and loss. The mornings are dark. Here in Philadelphia, the trees are just starting to turn. Autumn has come quickly this year, all too suddenly wet, cold and gray after a searing summer with no rain at all.
What does any of this have to do with waning technology?
Good question. I think that the emotions that autumn elicits, the melancholy my own primitive soul starts feeling as the days shorten, are akin to the distress and sorrow we feel as the objects of our life, the utilitarian technologies that once surrounded and defined us, fade into memory. News of a past technology’s demise makes us suddenly, desperately long to hold, to touch, to smell, to hear the things of our past. Like Orpheus leading his beloved from the Underworld, we look back to reassure ourselves that the everyday things we have known and loved and remember still exist in their full corporeal presence (That’s why we revel in the sensory details — the typewriter’s clacking keys, the mimeograph ink’s distinctive scent.) Instead, we turn back to watch, in sadness and horror, as the objects of our lives, the tangible evidence of our own existence, slip from our outstretched arms.
So even though technology does not appear in the poem below, I offer it today in the spirit of the season. Next time you find yourself mourning the loss of movie projectors, film cameras, incandescent light bulbs, or old 45s, think of the last line of this poem. Who is it you mourn for?
Spring and Fall:
to a Young Child
Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
Gerard Manley Hopkins