The cosmopolite and the peasant

In an essay on Rudyard Kipling, G. K. Chesterton discusses the rootlessness of one who fancies himself a “citizen of the world.”

The globetrotter lives in a smaller world than the peasant. He is always breathing an air of locality. London is a place, to be compared to Chicago; Chicago is a place, to be compared to Timbuctoo. But Timbuctoo is not a place, since there, at least, live men who regard it as the universe, and breathe, not an air of locality, but the winds of the world.

Such travelers, Chesterton argues, see much indeed, but superficially, and understand it no more deeply. By seeing so many things on such a grand scale, they make the world they actually occupy small and shallow. They think reality is the forest. It never occurs to them that reality might be the trees.

Those who live in one place – in a small place but deeply and fully – enter into their world completely, and so make it rich and expansive by comparison.

Chesterton clearly favors the peasant over the cosmopolite. Perhaps both have virtues, though. Surely, they at least share a decided lack of perspective.

Is it possible to try to develop a sense of perspective about this that enriches both ways of viewing the world without diluting the vital substance of either?



Let’s take another quick look at the MacLuhan quote that we saw last week:

If a fish could speak, water is the last thing it would identify as part of its environment.

Unfortunately, this is a so-oft-cited truism that it has descended to the status of a triviality. One of the reasons for this is that it is rarely elaborated upon.

As it happens, we won’t be filling that lack here, either – at least not directly. Indirectly, though, very much of what we will do will be intended to reveal, or perhaps have the incidental effect of revealing, aspects of our culture, and our interaction with it, that we may not have considered before.

While not especially trivial in actuality, the quote certainly is a truism. Just as does MacLuhan’s fish, we too do indeed swim in our culture largely heedless of what it is that inspires us, gives us direction and traction, supports our efforts to contribute, restrains our less constructive impulses.

We think it is all us. Like Chesterton’s tree we feel the “whole strength of the universe” in us and our fellows. Our beliefs and its force are in accord. There is no reason to believe otherwise.

But that brings us to this question: what about all those others, rooted in soil so distant and so different from ours, vigorously living lives informed by a universe often alien – even incompatible with – our own?

In a rootless world, what if we come into contact with them? In the real world, differences tend to engender confusion. Incompatibilities create hostility. And all is clothed in incomprehension, which, driven by our mutual heedlessness, keeps the spiral descending.

Comprehension, though, is insufficient by itself to resolve our disagreement. What it might help with, though, is to inform our responses – even enhance our self-understanding.

Nothing but good could come from that, right?


Invisible Culture

We’ve all heard this, attributed to Marshall McLuhan:

If a fish could speak, water is the last thing it would identify as part of its environment.

But perhaps this, from G. K. Chesterton, expresses the idea with more depth:

The moment we are rooted in a place, the place vanishes. We live like a tree with the whole strength of the universe.

Indeed. Rooted there, we delve deeply into our cultural environment. And it is drawn deeply into us. In the very act of distinguishing ourselves from it, we merge with it. Which is the cause, which the product, of which?

That is a big part of what we’ll look at, here. What are those things that become us, that we become? What do they mean to us, us to them?

Are they the mere artifacts of our culture – themselves, like us, products one of the other?

Or are they the very fabric of that culture – its institutions, their emanations and interplay, influencing each other – we and they – powerfully, but incalculably – insensibly?

How? In what way do we, our cultural institutions, and their artifacts interact? For good? For ill? Which animates – or enervates – which?

Let’s talk about all of that. And let’s do it plainly, unaffectedly. Because it’s fun. Even, sometimes, interesting.

Let’s talk about things – simple everyday things, complex phenomena – it doesn’t matter.

Let’s see if we can identify them – render them visible – and if we can determine what they are. Are they mere emanations, or the very fabric, of our culture? Are they us; are we them? Which influences the appearance or the changes in which?

Or is there simply interest to be piqued or enjoyment to be taken in distinguishing and discussing them.

Let’s try to find out.

See you soon.

Captivating Covers

When I was young, I had a dog. I worked long hours, and it was clear that he was miserable being left alone all day. So I, of course, got him a dog. It worked. And it also established a pattern that I suppose is not all that uncommon: the tendency to get things for our things.

This refers to accouterments that are more expressions of our attachment to our things than accessories that extend their usefulness. A pair of headphones is an accessory. Cases, on the other hand, often take on a role that combines concern for the welfare of the covered device with a distinct form of self expression by the user.

That’s a fair way to view the cases I have for my devices. Their value is much more than merely utilitarian protection. For one thing, I’ve tried the less expensive versions you can find in the standard electronics store, and found them to be both unsatisfactory as shields and impediments to ease of use of the devices.

As a result, I very soon gave up feigning the pretension that anything would do for my devices. I hold them in high regard. I want them both well-guarded and perfectly usable. And, yes, I want the cases to reflect the quality of the equipment they enclose, and to express the way I see them: as elegant, sophisticated business and entertainment devices.

So, no iridescent colors, cuddly animals, or sport team logos. Aside from the superb utility and protection they provide, these cases reflect not me, but the way I view and use these devices.

I even have a “go-to” company for these covers: Noreve. Each case is designed specifically for the particular device it is intended for, and is hand-crafted from high quality materials. They are on the expensive side, but this is clearly a case of avoiding the false economy of cheaper, unsatisfactory goods. These cases have lasted in virtually new condition for, in some cases, years. Very happy with them.

Currently Noreve is the maker of my Nokia E72 and iPad cases. Unfortunately, they had not designed their case for the new version of the iPod Touch when I bought it, so I wound up getting one for that made by an outfit called Piel Frama, purchased via It is a Noreve-level quality item, and I have had no occasion to feel as though I had settled for anything – a cleverly designed, wonderfully functional, and beautifully made item.

So there’s that. It’s a major issue, and the introductory remarks notwithstanding, I resist the idea that they are principally cosmetic. They have added to my comfort and confidence in taking these devices with me and using them around the world and, yes, they are quality and handsome covers for quality, sophisticated devices.

Don’t you get cases for yours? How do you approach the matter?

Happy juggler

The outstanding Nokia E72 remains my business smart-phone and principal go-to device. However, I soon noticed that some do-gooder we-know-better-than-you-what’s-good-for-you virus had infected the phone, preventing me from cranking up the volume for music listening. I could find nothing from any source to resolve this. As a consequence, the phone was useless as a music player while on the street, since even just moderate road noise rendered the tunes hardly discernable; an irritating and disconcerting listening experience. Obviously, it wasn’t much better in more quiet conditions.

The thing is, it is typically in noisier environments that I use the phone as a music player – walking, in a coffee shop, and the like. At the office or home, I have different devices. So, the phone’s use as a music player had essentially disappeared. Not only do I want to hear the music, but much of what I listen to – whether R&B piano, fingerstyle guitar, or classical violin concertos – are meant to fill your senses and carry you off. They need to have some volume to bring out the finer elements that otherwise would barely surface, and to invest them with the verve and energy that were present in their creation.

So, having found the perfect all-in-one device, I found that upgrading it to its next iteration required me to move back to a separate music player. The result was an iPod Nano (5th gen).

I can tell you that that solved the problem. What a great device! Much better experience downloading music from iTunes than from the multiple sources I used previously, many of which changed their DRM and outside-the-US policies sporadically and unannounced. This can be a real problem for an expat.

Shortly later, my wife got an iPhone. While she loves it, it does nothing for me as a business phone, and does not threaten the status of my E72. However, the computing power and easily used and wide range of applications certainly did intrigue me. So, it wasn’t long before I also became the proud owner of not only an iPod touch, but an iPad.

So, from multiple devices to one, and back to multiple devices again – and no complaints. I still read periodically on the E72, and use it principally for email when on the road – (the iPod Touch and iPad that I got are WiFi only, since I didn’t see the point of 3G in these devices and wasn’t sure I could use it where I live overseas in any event).

The iPad is a great productivity device when on the road – much more convenient than lugging a laptop around. I have the Bluetooth keyboard, and have had no problem transferring files between the iPod and my computer. I also do most of my newspaper reading on it, as well as keeping my chess game alive (Shredder – excellent).

The iPod touch is where I do most of my book reading – almost all of it using Kindle. Quick, convenient, and easy. Everything syncs between devices smoothly.

Both devices also have standard apps that I use frequently – an excellent financial calculator (to be honest, I was always a bit frustrated with the inability to get an HP-emulator on the E71/72; this is actually one of the things that drove me to getting the iPod Touch), an excellent unit-conversion program, weather, and the like.

The iPod Nano is now for walks in the woods and hills for exercise. The E72 is with me everywhere, and the iPod Touch almost always when I’m out and about. When I’m out for anything like an extended period, the iPad comes along for its productivity capabilities, so I can keep up with my writing.

All the Apple devices are the max gigabyte available (32 for the iPod Nano, and 64 for the iPod Touch and iPad). The iPod Touch and iPad are Wi-Fi only. They both work just fine in all the multiple hotspots around Istanbul and I haven’t regretted not having a 3G capability in them.

There it is, then: the current status of devices and their use. We’ll move on, now, to more detailed reviews of devices like these and other, as well as of some of the apps, music, books, and other material accessible from them. We will also see some essays on general topics of interest culturally – the sciences, politics, current events.

Do join in!