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    Technopoly, Poetic Knowledge, and the Disappearance of a Bookstore

    May 29, 2008 by Brandy Vencel

    Yesterday, Kimbrah said…

    There used to be a GREAT children’s bookstore down the street called The Prince and the Pauper but they have since closed. They had a castle for the kids to sit in and read quietly and also a pet macaw that talked. It so sad that such a wonderful place closed down and went solely online. 🙁

    There are many little things to mourn in our culture, not the least of which is the disappearance of small but charming things that added beauty and a certain peacefulness to daily life.

    I spent an hour yesterday reading Postman’s Technopoly while waiting for an OB blood test.

    As an aside, I thought I’d mention that I spent that hour in my Suburban. I had intended to remain in the waiting room. Even I am not so introverted that I cannot stand to sit in a half-empty room and chance some human interaction. It was the technology that drove me away. The waiting room was flanked on both sides by extra-large plasma screen televisions. One was blaring the Disney channel, while the other was screaming politics via CNN. There was no way I could read or think in such a noisy environment, and at the same the presence of the television {and cell phones in the hand or on the ear of every patient there but me} was a sure deterrent to any form of conversation or human connection.

    So, I took my book and left.


    Postman, may he rest in peace, could tell you exactly why such havens of delight {like the bookstore mentioned above} are disappearing. After all, we live in a true technopoly if ever there were one, and all technopolies rely on the same presuppositions, one of which is

    the belief that the primary, if not the only, goal of human labor and thought is efficiency.

    One only need listen to, watch, or read an advertisement somewhere {anywhere} to see that efficiency is one of the most esteemed ideas in our culture. Everywhere, people are hawking wares that do the job faster and/or with less effort.

    Among other things, this is a separation of ends from means. We esteem the end {fresh bread, a mowed lawn, a clean oven} and believe the end justifies any means {a bread machine, a riding lawn mower or gardener, a self-cleaning oven, to name a few}.

    This is not written to criticize self-cleaning ovens. It is simply to show the rationale at some neutral point.

    You see, quaint little children’s bookstores with reading castles and talking macaws are not efficient. Online book sales are efficient. Online book sales accomplish the end {selling children’s books} without the inconvenient means {caring for and paying for a storefront containing nonessentials like castles and pet birds}.

    And the teachers out there cry, At least the children are reading!

    I hear this rallying cry a lot. It shouts at us through websites and institutional schools and the like.

    That the children must and should read is not debatable.

    However, comma…

    All books are not created equal, for one. That they read is surely not justification for them reading poorly written or, even of greater concern, obscene material.

    But that is not today’s subject.

    Charlotte Mason once wrote that education is an atmosphere. James Taylor concurred when he wrote that

    the location of the school can be said to teach in the poetic mode just as strongly as the approach to the curriculum.

    As a woman who was once a child who loved to read in a certain plum tree in my back yard, especially when the fruit was almost ripe and the branches were almost breaking with their harvest burden, I can say with certainty that castles and macaws predispose a child to wonder {the essential foundation for true and humble learning} in a way that an online bookstore never will.

    The disappearance of charming bookstores is directly related to the disappearance of true craftsmanship in the culture, for they result from this same mindset of efficiency-above-all-else. In Poetic Knowledge, Taylor spends a good deal of time focused on crafts and how they acquaint the young soul with real, concrete things. He quotes men who claim that farm work, for instance, helped them understand math in a way a textbook never could. He explains that the whole body, and not just the mind, is cognitive. We can, as he rightly says, learn to comprehend the fulcrum and level by playing on a see-saw or using a pitchfork.

    Ladies Against Feminism recently interviewed Kathy Brodock from Teaching Good Things. She, too, sees the body, hands, mind, and soul as a whole being, all of which need to be educated. She also seems to understand that a whole education truly educates the whole. To put it another way, she understand that all of the body is being educated all of the time. So just as learning passively can make the body slothful and the hands idle, learning actively can stimulate the mind to make a million little connections of understanding. Moreover, she understands in impact of learning true skills and crafts on the soul:

    Learning these skills can build many character traits, not only in our children, but in us. Traits such as: diligence, humility, obedience, gratefulness, patience, attentiveness, orderliness, responsibility, initiative, creativity, thriftiness, availability, and self control. Learning these skills helps develop our ability to appreciate the world around us.

    So, why the disappearance of a great bookstore? Efficiency, my friend. Efficiency. And really, this probably wasn’t efficiency on the part of the owners. My guess is that, as their customers decided to choose efficiency over a whole body-mind-and-soul experience, the owners had to make a choice to cut their overhead or go bankrupt. I am sure that online book sales saved their livelihood, and no one should fault them for this.

    This is the cost of trying to survive in a culture that values efficiency above all else. Beauty and righteousness are often inefficient. And, as we plunge headlong into the worship of technology, we shouldn’t be surprised to see these things disappear.

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    1 Comment

  • Reply Kimbrah May 29, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    Great post Brandy!

    I forgot to mention that they had a wonderful collection of rare children’s books, like the complete Wizard of Oz set, first edition for very reasonable prices. We always put off collecting until the kids were old enough to appreciate it, and now we regret that immensely.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this thoughtful and thought provoking post.

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