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43. Edward Burke, On The Sublime And Beautiful

43. Edward Burke, On The Sublime And Beautiful

This is a selection from author Edward Burke’s, “On The Sublime And Beautiful”

“The first and simplest emotion which we discover in the human mind is curiosity. By curiosity I mean whatever desire we have for or whatever pleasure we take in novelty. We see children perpetually running from place to place to hunt out something new; they catch with great eagerness and with very little choice at whatever comes before them; their attention is engaged by everything, because everything has, in that stage of life, the charm of novelty to recommend it.”

But as those things which engage us merely by their novelty cannot attach us for any length of time, curiosity is the most superficial of all the affections; it changes its object perpetually; it has an appetite which is very sharp, but very easily satisfied.

Every time the newspapers come out they have something new, something novel, and something to excite our curiosity, or we think they have, and we want to see what it is. But the deuce take the printed matter! Give us bulk and weight, something that we can hold out and heft, so we can make sure that we have our money’s worth. Then the novel will go like William J. Bryan’s Commoner, until it is found to be a very uncommoner.” –Edward Burke, 1902

Edward Burke is explaining how the newspaper will eventually displace the book. Every day, he says, the newspaper gives a reader something to excite his curiosity. It’s faster than the book and more novel (pardon the pun). We can look at these words and see mirrored in them the reason why the Internet may eventually displace print. The newspaper comes out once a day, while on the web, we get a never ending supply of information, more and more news to excite our senses. How can a medium written onto dead trees and limited by the speed of printing and distribution keep up with instantaneous information access?

It probably can’t. The Internet buffets us with a never ending torrent of information and newspapers will never be able to keep up (see the clip for more), but history does give us an interesting counter-point to Mr. Burke’s admonition — newspapers never did displace books. The reason that both are still around today is not because Burke is incorrect, it’s because newspaper and books do fundamentally different things. Newspapers give you broad, shallow content on a regular basis while books give you deep, highly involved content much more slowly. They both survived because the industries had a clear vision of where they stood.

Maybe the problem isn’t that newspapers are dying out because they can’t compete with the web, maybe the problem is that newspapers shouldn’t be trying to compete in the first place.

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