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Eco recalls the British army officer who, in the 1990s, received a publisher’s compensation as well as media fame for detailing his extramarital affair with Diana, Princess of Wales.
In a 2002 piece Eco already spotted this trend, pointing to the endless procession of untalented people rushing to appear on television reality shows to air their scandals and sins; or who, when a camera appears in public, jostle to position themselves before its lens, eager to “wave ” to those watching at home.
This exhibitionism, Eco suggests, stems from anomie and fear of anonymity.
Still, he acknowledges the limitations of digital media, including the inevitable arrival of obsolescence in which, for example, floppy disks are followed by digital diskettes, and then rewritable disks, and then USB memory sticks—with each change tied to costly upgrades in computer hardware.
Today’s communications media, Eco writes, “seem to be aimed more at the broadcasting of information than its conservation.” So, “I’m happy those books are still there on my shelves, useful backups for the time when electronic instruments eventually pack up.” Eco’s Leftwing Traditionalism Actually Eco was a traditionalist, of a sort—a left-leaning, sometimes cranky agnostic who nonetheless understood Western culture and loved its marvelous and often religiously inspired accomplishments, its literature and art.
In the liquid society people often find themselves afloat, aware of the collapse of once-powerful institutions and ideologies, and without the consolation of the beliefs or traditions that provided ballast for centuries.