Monday, June 25, 2018

Sherlock Holmes, easing our social media guilt.

Step one: Wake up this morning, reached for my phone, and started flipping through Twitter.

Step two: Feel that concern that I am somehow over-using/addicted to my phone and its various feeds-of-the-moment.

Step three: Remember Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson.

It's very early in the Sherlockian Canon when we establish that Holmes and Watson are what we might call "voracious" readers of the news. In the beginning of chapter six of A Study in Scarlet, Watson condenses report from just three of the newspapers that he and Holmes read over breakfast, the Daily Telegraph, the Standard, and the Daily News. And this newspaper "addiction" doesn't stop there.

Sherlock Holmes might have found the newspapers "a valuable institution," but John Watson, who was definitely not using them for professional purposes, seemed to read them even more. surrounding himself with a "cloud of newspapers" in "The Noble Bachelor."

"But wait!" one might argue, "They were reading the news, not the folderol that composes Twitter and its ilk!"

There are two things we know Sherlock Holmes read in the papers to be sure: Criminal news and the Agony Column, a.k.a. the personal ads. Think about that for a moment. Yes, yes, he did occasionally find something to do with a case in the personals, and he complains of them being "Bleat, Watson -- unmitigated bleat!"  (Which sounds just like a lot of social media, doesn't it?) But the fact of the matter is that Sherlock Holmes read the personals every day when, if fully considered, that habit could not have solved all that many cases for him. You know he just enjoyed the flow of humanity in those words and all the "bleat" he could mock and fuss over. (Which, again, sounds just like social media.)

And even the supposed "news" in those days was just as slanted and full of irrelevancies as one of our modern propaganda outlets. That passage in A Study in Scarlet I mentioned earlier hits the level of parody in what it tells us about each of those papers. And yet Watson dutifully clipped the articles after he and Holmes finished with them. (Which makes one wonder -- Holmes also saved old articles and newspapers. Did they have to get two copies of each when a case they were on made the papers?)

In any case, when one goes back and looks at the amount of newspaper-time that Sherlock Holmes and John Watson were spending in the Canon, it can make you feel a lot better about scanning Twitter or some other source for breaking news and unmitigated bleat.

Because, hey, Sherlock Holmes would be doing it today, wouldn't he?

And luckily, most of us are too old to have our mothers going, "If Sherlock Holmes jumped off a waterfall, would you jump off a waterfall too?" Because I bet they wouldn't like the answer to that, either.

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