About ten years ago we saw the appearance of increased books, said to be still enriched. You remember, paper books came with an app, and readers were invited to read more on their cellphones or tablets. Images from children’s albums came alive on the screen. Documentary books for adolescents were doubled as video games for educational purposes. In adult books, marginal links led to variations, biographies, articles.
Today, no one holds our hands to move us from paper to screen, we do it all alone. With our pocket-sized electronic encyclopedia, we ourselves are somewhat augmented. As soon as we come across a word, a character, an event that we don’t know much about and that piques our curiosity, we seek to educate ourselves – and off we go into the digital ocean.
Reading has always taken time. Compared to cinema or television shows, reading had this handicap: it was known to be time consuming. She is twice as bad now. It is no longer the books which are increased but the reading.
In Paul Morand’s erudite and erudite biography (1), one is struck by the brevity of the notes, which are only references and not, as in the past, additional information. It seems that the author, knowing the readers that we have become, decided not to burden his story with explanations or comments, knowing full well that, if we wanted to, we would be able to find them on our own. Thus, when she introduced us to Philippe Berthelot, this brilliant diplomat who was Morand’s mentor, she wrote: “Not everyone can brag about having both parents in the Pantheon. “ Follow a half line on the “Chemist Marcellin Berthelot”, Philippe’s father, but nothing about his mother. Obviously, we are looking. There aren’t that many in the Pantheon, ladies. And we learn that Sophie Berthelot, born Sophie Caroline Niaudet, is the first woman to have been buried in the Pantheon. We cannot stop at that. We inquired about the merits of this pioneer. They are tall. She was a Calvinist, rigorous, she brought up her six children without weakness. In addition she was beautiful as the day, the photos testify. The painter Sébastien Cornu took her as a model to represent Saint Helena on one of the frescoes in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The Berthelots loved each other tenderly. When Sophie died, Marcellin, who had warned his relatives that he would not survive his death, went to lie down on a sofa, lost consciousness and in turn died.
Their children were preparing to have their parents buried in the family vault. But the parliamentarians voted for the great chemist of the national funeral and a place in the Pantheon. Impossible, said the family: the two spouses had asked not to be separated after their death. Either, conceded the parliamentarians, Mme Berthelot will enter the Pantheon with her husband.
Reading the newspaper, too, causes each page to step sideways. Such a 20-year-old sopranist amazes crowds and critics; and we ignore even his name. Immediately we will see who he is, how he made himself known so quickly. We listen to him sing, then respond to reporters. Where twenty years ago we would have stayed on a “Here is someone whom it would be pleasant to go and hear one day”, we have passed – it is not possible! half an hour – doing an Internet excursion that was not urgent, and perhaps of no importance.
In fact, everything in connected life pushes us to peck like drunken birds at irresistible information, to the point of dizziness. A film in costumes seems to us full of anachronisms – The Princess of Montpensier, for example – and, an hour after seeing it, we are reading online the short story of Madame de La Fayette which inspired it. A line surprises us in a play, a quote seems warped in the mouth of a politician … Let’s check. Let’s seek.
How to resist ? Should we resist? The desire for knowledge is powerful in us, and it is not base. But is it still knowledge? How not to be intoxicated by the prodigious accessibility of information of all kinds? How to distinguish between over-information and knowledge? How can we admit that we will always be ignorant? What about wisdom in this great maelstrom?