Of Few Letters

Miguel Guhlin, The New Inquiry, Apr 23, 2013
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Miguel Guhlin points to an essay by William Zinnsser in The American Scholar on the topic of 'men of letters'. It resonates with me in two ways: first, because I achieved the 'Man of Letters' Boy Scout badge after self-publishing 'The Eagle Report', a mimeographed hand-written town newspaper I authored while in grade 5, and the Book of the Month Club (BOMC), which I signed up for with my father around the same time, and through which I was exposed to, among others, Pierre Berton, Farley Mowat, and  William L. Shirer. So I understand Zinnsser's lament for the passing of men of letters. But I don't share it. Today, a person who focuses solely on the written word is suffering a form of illiteracy, and today's literati (which I would claim to be a part of) are people who navigate software, mathematics, scientific reasoning and social networks with the same sort of ease and facility. They may be women as well as men, Korean or Argentinian as well as British or American, and are sought less for their authority and more for their willingness to share.

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