I have not mentioned my young friend Harry in these letters for a while. What happened was: Harry went back to school to do a Masters or something similar which made him rather busy; then his computer crashed and he was temporarily denied access to the internet. Well, he survived and has been exchanging with me thoughts he said he had derived from my letters. Let me summarize and paraphrase below what we have been discussing.
On Rowling’s latest book, he suggested that once a book has inspired feature films, and in this particular case, to the tune of a film a year, commercialization is inevitable. However, it is getting people becoming excited about reading again that has made her important in the literary world in addition to being prosperous. Indeed, the Harry Porter series has boosted book sales everywhere, even in Hong Kong. Similarly, Hollywood’s cinematic productions based on comic book heroes and their sojourns have led to a surge in demand for books on the original source material. In some sense, the resurgence in the popularity of books may be a reflection of Hollywood’s failure to produce new and original material that would stimulate both the visual and mental faculties of their audience. Hollywood now tends to rely on technology to create images that would give audience instant gratification and hence deny them the benefits they could have derived from reading the actual comic books where their mental agility would be stretched, sometimes beyond the imagination of their authors.
In time, film producers could inadvertently deprive next generations of certain valuable skills of which their forefathers had been so proud. Similarly, elementary school students across America now rely on the bevy of calculators and word processors at their disposal, and in the process, and not unsurprisingly, have had their spelling, grammar, and basic arithmetic skills waned. People now are not as interested in the processes as they were in the past. They have become too much results-oriented. For example, people are no longer able to remember phone numbers, including their own; for we are now too much accustomed to scrolling through lists of names in the cell phone directory, selecting the individual and then allowing the phone to ring on the other end.
Harry said that writing is another casualty along the way. Writing is fast becoming a lost art. Nobody writes letters to anybody now. It is ironic, however, that if one goes back in time against the current, develops skills of the past and becomes an expert on how things used to work in any field, be it technology, modernity, revolution or whatever, one would tend to make oneself unique and very often valuable, at least potentially. My friend concluded that in the end there is only one entity that cannot be manipulated and which is the leveler of all, regardless of technology and evolution, and that is time itself and everyone ought to be aware of that because no one is free by its yoke and never will be.
On how people watch television now, Harry said the latest fad which would very likely become a trend could be the way people put programs on tape, particularly when favourite programs are run simultaneously on different channels. People now routinely load programs onto a hard disk, so that they could be viewed at a later date. In the end, however, people cannot save time; even though they can skip the commercials; but rather they spend more time to watch more television programs.
This is not to suggest that television is the root of all evil or making today’s society irrelevant. It is the phenomena more akin to how modern innovations in household appliances have been taking hold of the owners rather than the other way round. Thus, these appliances are supposed to free up time, but most of them end up creating more work for the users and increasing labor in the household: dinners have become more lavish; more loads of laundry are washed because of the efficiency and convenience; and so on. People are therefore spending more time in household labor since the advent of technological improvements. A corollary to this is that many inventions have failed to serve their intended purposes, and have instead generated a lot of unintended consequences which the modern householders are forced to live with.
On leadership, Harry noted that authoritative positions are often criticized as merely figurehead positions, such that over time they have taken a rather negative connotation. While leaders are vital in motivating and mobilizing a larger group of people, it does seem that the masses are more adept in following, and would often avoid taking that first step forward for fear that no one would follow. Thus a figurehead may not be as bad as many have portrayed, but rather would be someone out there that we could respect and believe in, after he or she has earned the respect to be called a leader, but before he or she is corrupted by the power which normally accompanies the office.
On the hypothetical question in relation to King Solomon, Harry was not optimistic that I could get any truthful responses or any at all. Here, the problems appear to be that although we try not to judge others, we cannot help doing so instinctively, particularly with the philosophical prose tinged with morality. He then went on to give me his honest answer, which was that he wouldn’t know, adding that he normally wouldn’t even think of such matters, which might tend to work on one’s psychology and perhaps even prey on one’s whims for hope, betterment and fantasy. Thus, Harry does not believe in wishing wells, shooting stars, blowing out birthday candles, blooming white flowers and other assortment of tricks and fancy, even though he would robotically and actively participate in such rituals. Let me elaborate.
Consider you are standing before a birthday cake with candles at your own birthday party. You are asked to make some wishes. Normally, everyone would have six or seven and would quickly run through them before blowing out the candles, even though no one would seriously believe that any of the wishes would come true. The process would repeat itself year after year, until one day you find that you are standing there unable to fill up your quota for wishes and have to include world peace as one of them.
So what has happened? Have you changed, have you become more world minded, more peace-loving and more magnanimous? Have you become a man with no wants, or have you simply lost your imagination? I was in a similar situation recently and provided an open answer to questions on what I wanted. My questioner said I had lost my inner child. What she meant was that I was too old and unimaginative.
My real fear factor is that such wishes may come true, which is why these days I seldom wish others that all their wishes would come true. Some people may have bad wishes, unknowingly, and I am convinced that no mortals can handle the power to make all wishes come true, either for himself or for others. Maybe a person with wisdom can, which was what I meant when I posed that question.
On wisdom, Harry appeared to agree that faith and conviction are important, not just in the context of religious beliefs. Specifically, he believed that faith could provide a person the quiet confidence that would enable him to achieve or complete what he sets out to do, and that there are no limits with faith. Many people could be wise in the traditional book-sense, and endowed with such knowledge as no one would have, but they lack the gift to admit what they know, or to apply such knowledge to situations thereby achieving something tangible that can benefit the world. It could be fear working within.
This could be why people are generally silent on social and community issues. In general, the majority would not speak up in the face of injustice and would find it difficult to lend their support to weak voices crying in the wilderness against such. It is the fear of the unknown working within them. It is therefore most refreshing to see a young Rotaractor turned Rotarian speaking up on what she believes. She is a brand new Rotarian in the Rotary Club of Macao and has been sharing her thoughts with editors of Kingspark News, openly and clearly. Whenever I see such action in young people, I say to myself with quiet confidence that all has not been lost, for hope is just round the corner.
Talk to you later.