How Hemingway Slowly – Then Suddenly – Determined Zeitgeist

Hemingway’s phrase has always had broad appeal. It predicted some aspects of complex systems theory, popularly known as the Critical Point. Remember when we used to think that MySpace, the beneficiary of the network effect in the middle of the thinking years, seemed unusable? It lost ground to Facebook, gradually, then suddenly. (Perhaps Mark Zuckerberg should think twice before stripped of personal relationships on Facebook to go after TikTok, giving competitors an opportunity to address the company’s original focus on friends and family.)

But I believe there is a stronger reason for the term’s current pervasiveness, and that is the fear of the surroundings that accompanies the feeling of civilization disintegrating at the seams. See some recent quotes:

  • Financial Review, in an article about a possible civil war in the United States: “America’s democratic backsliding resembles Ernest Hemingway’s famous observation of bankruptcy…”
  • Bloomberg Opinionpost description-Roe landscape: “Democracy is like Ernest Hemingway’s depiction of bankruptcy.”
  • Misson the decline of global democracy: “What Ernest Hemingway said about financial bankruptcy is also true of political bankruptcy.”

Mike Campbell’s brief remarks also apply to the climate crisis, another area where years of warning signs have finally turned to real danger. It’s almost hard to find a climate report are not begin with Mike describing the collapse of solvency.

Yes, Hemingway’s quote has always been for experts and social critics. But as our glaciers and democracy, after years of dwindling decline, seemed to collapse all at once, an inscription in a 96-year-old book became our symbol, tattooed in the tip of our tongue. At first gradually, and now suddenly.

Time travel

In June 1983, I wrote about some early attempts at writing fiction online in my column, Remote Computing, which I wrote for Popular calculators. (Yes, I covered that rhythm during Reagan’s first term.) Of course, I took Hemingway as an example, parodying the master in my introduction to a column now considered to be archeology.

Ernesto logged into the service. Waiting for the reminder, he drained the wine in one gulp. The wine comes from Valdepeñas, and it’s delicious. The prompt is now displayed on the video screen. Ernesto began to write. He knows how a man should write: You log into information services, you stand at your keyboard, you have a bottle of wine next to you, and you run your modem at 1200 bits per second. It goes smoothly for a while, then it doesn’t. Ernesto knows not to come when it won’t come. He decided to see what the others were doing. He got access to Scotty’s new novel. Then he accessed a rough draft of a story Dos had posted online, telling them that their writing was good, but not as good as Ernesto’s. This then shows on the screen: “PAPA-540 — DO YOU WANT TO CHAT?” Ernesto cursed himself softly. And he signed out.

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