The old hymn rang out with, “Faith of our fathers, living still / In spite of dungeon, fire and sword.” I remember how gladly we sang how earnestly. But not any more. The old faith has taken blow after blow in the last half-century and in many places is down nearly for the count.
Now in Egypt the new digital technology, the Social Network, has come fully into its own. A generation of dispossessed young people accomplished in a week social and political change that in the past would have taken years if not decades to bring about. Those young Egyptians left their father’s faith at home and went “wired” into the streets of Cairo to organize a revolution.
The electronic instruments they held in their hands turned out to be the most democratizing technology since the advent of the automobile. Those protesters were at all times intimately in touch with each other and under the immediate direction of a brilliant leadership.
Among our ancient fantasies is that of the magic ring that gives its wearer power over all the world. In Wagner’s immense music drama , “Der Ring des Niebelungen”, a ring made of gold stolen from the Rhine did the trick.
Oxford’s Professor Tolkien used the idea in his monumental fiction, The Lord of the Rings. We hold that fantasy in common of slipping a magic ring on our finger and enjoying complete power over our circumstances. But where to get one?
When I was a child, the “Little Orphan Annie” radio program at 5:30 every weekday evening, pulled us enchanted listeners into the fantasy by offering us just such a magic ring for ten cents and the seal from a jar of Ovaltine. Following the ring-- now get this-- the program offered a decoder pin, all glistening gold, a star, that we could bravely wear and have ready to decode special, secret messages sent us by the radio broadcast. It felt like power, to be hooked up in this way to a great confederation of listening kids like me.
Just like Egypt.
I confess, I still have my decoder pin, and can still believe in it-- at least as much as I can believe in my childhood.
So, little wonder that kids, young and old, are fast in the thrall of these new and miraculous electronic devices. There can be no doubt but that they give a sense of power and personal magnitude. They proclaim the order of the day’s march.
The kids have high-jacked the technologies of their elders in order to realize the fondest of all the dreams of youth: that of side-stepping those same elders into their own new life.
The final utterance in King Lear is, “We that are young shall never see so much nor live so long.” Now, in my very old age, I can, all of a sudden, see why this moving line of Edgar’s is both right and wrong. The kids will never know what we know--except perhaps in sudden little insights from out of nowhere. True enough. But. I must believe that those same kids may be entering on quite a new world, opened to them by the great E technology where I can never fully play. I think I must be resigned and keep out of the way.
In a sense, a sense at once melancholy and thrilling, our children will never come home again. And I say nothing about those terrific Rings which always, in the end, lead to cataclysm. Or maybe to a new Egypt. A new Middle East.