Is there a causal connection between 9/11 (plus London and Madrid), the war in Iraq, the crisis in the economy, and the circus of Britneymania on the one hand, and, on the other, the ad absurdum proliferation of online publishing? According to Montaigne, yes:
I am not jesting: scribbling seems to be a symptom of an age of excess. When did we ever write so much as since our public disturbances? And when did the Romans write so much as at the time of their downfall? …The corruption of the age is made up by the special contribution of each one of us; some furnish treachery, others injustice, irreligion, tyranny, avarice, cruelty, according to the degree of their power; the weaker bring to it dullness, trifling, idleness – of which I am one. It would seem it were the season for trifling things when harmful ones press upon us. At a time when to do evil is so common, to do only what is useless is, as it were, praiseworthy.
The quote is from Essays, III, 9, ‘On Vanity.’ Of course, Montaigne was writing in the 16th century, but this only serves to illustrate the charming constancy of human folly.
I wonder, however, if there isn’t something more to our scribbling than nervous loquacity and a thirst for distraction. From infancy, words are our strong angels, magical things with the power to console, to command, to banish phantoms, to transport us to better places and to impart knowledge. In the face of violence, fear and mindlessness, there’s a certain ‘useless’ comfort in the sound of a human voice, even when it’s our own.