What Hemingway Would Think of the Internet?
By: Marty Beckerman
If Ernest Hemingway hadn’t killed himself 50 years ago today at age 61, he probably would have died by now anyway. (No human liver could withstand more than a century of nonstop alcoholic pummeling. Not even Papa’s.)
But Newsweek can fantasize about Princess Diana cheating death, so we can imagine Hemingway walking — or staggering — among us in 2011. What would the hard-drinking, adventure-loving writer think of our modern technological lifestyle?
Not bloody much. We’re obsessed with conquering the digital world — accumulation of Twitter followers, Facebook friends, LinkedIn recommendations — whereas Hemingway conquered the physical world. The thrill of a retweet from Roger Ebert or Ashton Kutcher will never compare to the thrill of running with (more like from) the bulls or fighting a pack of voracious sharks over the remains of a prize-catch marlin.
Even combat, the manliest sport of all, will soon be a neutered, joystick-toggling simulation orchestrated halfway around the world from the battlefield, thanks to our increasing reliance on unmanned drones to do our dirty work. Just another videogame, a perfect metaphor for our age. (Except for, you know, the SEALs.) But plunging a Nintendo Wii controller into thin air is no substitute for plunging a bayonet deep into the heart of a Franco loyalist. This is easy to do because Franco loyalists are, like, a hundred years old now.
In much the same way, using GPS is no substitute for uncharted exploration. Why “tour” Africa with Google Earth when you can instead decimate its magnificent creatures in the flesh?
Former Rep. Anthony Weiner, who blew his marriage over sending naughty digital photos to various women, epitomizes this contemporary electronic emasculation. Hemingway was a big fan of blowing marriages — he was a three-time divorce court champion — but he had the cojones to actually cheat on his wives, not emotionally cheat on them. (He only had a single emotion, and it was bloodlust for the animal kingdom.)
We need to power down our tablets and smartphones, men, and get back to challenging Mother Nature to kill us for our ambition and arrogance, whether it’s stalking a hungry lion or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
Dominating at Angry Birds or FarmVille is no way to prove our manhood. You can score badges on Foursquare and become the mayor of a local organic vegan cafe, but wouldn’t you rather score bronze and silver medals of valor like Hemingway did in World Wars I and II?
Wouldn’t you rather learn about life from adventure (and mojito-fueled misadventure) than Wikipedia?
Perhaps Hemingway would approve of a select few online destinations:
• He would love Twitter; his greatest quotes are all 140 characters or less.
• Considering his fondness for kitties, Hemingway would spend countless hours on YouTube and I Can Has Cheezburger?
• Like all men, Papa loathed shopping — the only store where he felt comfortable was Abercrombie & Fitch, back when it distributed sporting goods instead of gay porn — so Amazon would make his purchases quick and painless. Unfortunately Amazon does not stock vintage, wormwood-laced absinthe.
Another plus: Reading For Whom the Bell Tolls on a Kindle or Nook won’t give you carpal tunnel like hefting the damn hardcover.
So technology isn’t all bad; it’s just a problem when the easy shortcuts and addictive distractions make us lazy, incompetent and unable to differentiate between “you’re,” “your” and “ur.” Hemingway advised novelists to “write drunk, edit sober,” whereas Facebook is for writing drunk and editing never.
“Fear of death increases in exact proportion to increase in wealth,” Hemingway once said. Today, many of us have become rich in the currency of cowardice. We have so many things and so few experiences. We are desperate to live as long as possible, not as large as possible. We are so afraid to say goodbye to the world that we never say hello.
We are numbed in our high-def, Wi-Fi cocoons, eager for materialistic possessions — the newest, fastest, shiniest gadgets — instead of a fitting end to a life well-lived. If Papa hadn’t killed himself out of despair in 1961, he would kill himself out of disgust today.
If, that is, he could pull himself away from Nyan Cat. Now that’s a challenge.