David Bosworth, author of the new The Demise of Virtue in Virtual America: The Moral Origins of the Great Recession, writes about the effect of constant cyberspace and television on the American character. But is there anything distinctly American about this?
I am, at this moment, in Ethiopia, in a country that in the 1970s and ‘80s was one of the world’s poorest, though it has been doing better since it got rid of its Communist government around 1990 and installed a semi-democratic government. We were in Axum, near the northern border, [at a brand new hotel I think Chinese-built], though the guests are all either African or European. Anyway, we try to sit away from the ubiquitous television screens that are constantly broadcasting news and sports in the lounge and in the dining room. And as we were walking to the site of the buildings of the ancient capital [from 500 B.C. to 500 A.D. Axum was the capital of an important kingdom] we heard a loud narration in English of a soccer match from an outdoor venue where people were watching.
Americans sometimes make one error; the assumption, to paraphrase Rousseau, that we are all born American, and are all in chains; but Americans critical of our national mores often make the opposite error, of attributing to American culture or politics themes that are actually international or worldwide. And I have been to more than one less affluent country, and loud TVs are a thing in public rooms all over. And, in the houses of the poor, the first sign of any form of affluence is the satellite dish! And when they can get hold of cell phones, they do. How they keep them charged, I have no idea! There are desires in the human soul, I guess, that sleep until they are stimulated.