In the February, 2010 issue of Information Today (p. 14), cartoonist Randy Glasbergen has a chap seated at a computer tell an onlooker, "My presentation has live links, full-screen HD, video clips, animated fonts, thundering surround-sound audio, and awesome 3-D special effects. Now all I need is a topic.”
I believe this is not–and perhaps it is not for Mr. Glasbergen, either–simply depiction of an isolated humorous event, but a parable of the age. It is one in which standard education and market expectations breed hordes of idiot savants, people who have a great deal of information batting about in their heads, information that either for reasons of personal or vocational interest may make what passes for an expert by coagulating at certain points, all of which, however, is totally devoid of meaning.
The modern terminology for this is that it lacks a metanarrative, a story, a picture or cosmic idea of reality or truth by which mere information can be transformed into a canon of topics related to each other, weighed and put into perspective by a fundamental and pervasive Grand Story. It is as though technology furnishes a resounding Straussian fanfare, but when the gilded curtains fall aside to the audience’s rapt anticipation of a Veritable Topic (for it still remembers such things), all that appears is a whistling janitor, pushing his broom across the floor to exit stage left. Or perhaps, equally interesting, a lecturing absurdity whose topic is the impossibility of Topics, since all they ever were anyway were components of antique settings, now gathering dust in storage.
It seems to me that conquest of the world of idiot-savantism, which we must all be about, lies first in the acquisition of real knowledge (and so, the reform of education in its broadest sense, which includes refusal to provide for “teachers” who deny its possibility), which implies an organized depth of information on discrete topical fields, the necessary propaedeutic to wisdom, the essence of which is the relation of knowledge to truth, that is, to the Grand Story. To borrow a form from John Henry Newman, no one can be deep in any humane study (this excludes by definition depth in mere technology) without concern for “classical” topics and their relations to each other, and no one can speak meaningfully of these relations apart from their organization around a central and compelling core of universal truth–the Tao, which Christians believe to be the person of Jesus Christ, but which is known outside the Christian faith and places Christians in communication with all who have not lost their humanity. Christianus sum: nihil humani a me alienum puto (Philip Schaff).
The deep and hopeless ennui which should strike into the topic-less geek as deeply as his humanity still reaches, is that nothing he is doing makes any sense, no matter how skilled and elaborate the doing may be. He has a choice: he may go mad or kill himself, he may remain in the mode where the doing is the being, and the highest he may reach is peerless aptitude in technique and task-oriented information gathering. Or he may strike out on a pilgrimage in which he seeks knowledge in the classical Topics, and moves from there to Meaning.