Sunday, 20 November 2011

20th November

Not a date which would ever be considered of earth-shattering importance. Yet in its own way marks the anniversaries of three events which could be considered landmarks of the written word.

Just 191 years have passed since that day in 1820 when the Essex, a whaling ship out of Nantucket, Massachusetts, was in the Pacific Ocean about 2,000 miles off the west coast of South America. Nothing unusual about such in the early nineteenth century, that was until the Essex was attacked by a sperm whale with an estimated mass of some eighty tons. The vessel sank with just eight survivors, one of whom was first mate Owen Chase. Following the publication of his record of the events in 1821, under the snappy title Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex, Herman Melville had he germ of an idea which would become one of the first great American novels - Moby Dick. The success of this novel from its publication in 1851 when the literate were in a very small minority (and no radio, television, or cinema to bring the narrative to a wider audience) makes it a landmark piece of literature.

Winding forward 127 years and a young Princess Elizabeth (she was just 21) married Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten at Westminster Abbey in London. Within six years she was crowned Queen Elizabeth as the nation sat glued to their new television sets, purchased specially for the purpose of watching the pomp and ceremony live and in glorious black and white. Since that time the media has grown to the state-of-the-art broadcasting we take for granted today. Almost sixty years on the throne and surely no other living individual can have been written about, filmed, taped, broadcast, snapped (or waved at) over this time.

Finally another 38 years on and on this day in 1985 Microsoft Windows 1.0 is released. This brought the computer to the masses which, with the internet readily available within a few years, enabled billions to add their words to the mix, irrespective of ability, education, interest, or common sense. It could be argued this tremendous input serves only to dilute that worthy of reading, which would have stood alone in the days of Herman Melville. However from the opposite point of view, does it naturally bring the quality to the surface, highlighting the well-written word in a vast ocean of dross?

1 comment:

  1. 'does it naturally bring the quality to the surface, highlighting the well-written word in a vast ocean of dross?'
    Amanda Hocking. So, no... :-)