Saturday, September 15, 2007

Good Hour Wasted

All hours are good hours ... unless something turns them into times of bordom, irritation or negativity. I got the works last night. Steven Pinker, a Harvard lingist was speaking at the local Barnes & Noble since he has a new book out. I read the last one and was fairly impressed. So off I went forgetting a rule I should have learned well by now: if I'm interested quite a few other people are going to be interested. So I should have left half an hour earlier. Of course when I arrived all the seats were taken and people were already on the floor and standing in most possible spaces. This ought to be a good talk, I thought. Soon in comes two BN women and Pinker -- he's looking super spiffy. A good looking guy with well cut collar lenght gray curly hair, an expensive suit and nice tie. He looked like successful hedge fund manager.

Then began 20 minutes of adjustments of a comupter/slide projector/screen. Yes, 20 minutes! I'm eyeing a chair, the only empty chair in the place. It's directly behind a pillar and has a brief case on it. Both screen and Pinker will be invisible from that chair. The man whose brief case it seems to be is deep in text messaging. I surpmise he's telling a companion to come and sit in the chair. But I SHOULD have, at that point asked if it were taken -- except I anticipated a great talk and slides and wanted to see.

Finally, Pinker starts talking --he apologizes for the delay. [Isn't a Havard prof smart enough to know to test the equipment ahead of time? Aren't the BN people accustomed to such matters?] Anyway, the slide show proves to be a Power Point of almost exactly everything he reads from his notes -- very likely a flunky was told to prepare it [and maybe prepare the speech]. What he had to say can generously be called Linguistics 101; if I weren't being generous I'd say it was so simplistic a fairly bright high school freshman could get it -- and might hear something new. I certainly didn't hear anything new.

It was hard to believe, as he went on and on, that "one of the 100 most influentical men in the US" according to Time Mag., was insulting the intelligence of this audience with his pablum. The West Side is known to be home of the teachers and professors of the various Universities [except for those who have decamped to Park Slope in Brooklyn]. As my boredom grew and my feet began to hurt, I diisplaced -- or maybe just extended -- my increasing anger at that empty chair. And especially at the two people on eithter side of the chair and the two people immediately behind it as well. The texting man was obviously so sefl-absorbed the rest of the world was contained only in his cell phone. The woman beside the chair was one of those very neatly coiffed, neatly dressed birdlike women who I had immediately taken to be an academic, probably of some pseudo-intellectual subject like theories of the capacity of the preschool child. She had been chatting animatedly with a younger woman and was as self-absorbed as the man. The two people immediately behind the chair, a 40ish woman and a 60s man who were not together both seemed just out of it.

Couldn't any of them look around the crowded space, see many standees, like me, and offer the chair -- preferrably to the white haired one [me]? [As an aside, the couple to my left both, girl and guy] had shaved heads. It was not a desirable chair until my feet started hurting and until I realized that seeing the screen was redundant. Then it became a VERY desirable chair but was locked in so tight I couldn't go claim it without creating a stir once Pinker started talking. I also couldn't slip away because there was a wall two or three deep behind me of standing people.

I left in such a negative state of mind I'm only now calming down. The jerk probably put his brief case on the chair just because the chair was there. And the dunces around about who couldn't do a random act of kindness of offering the seat are beyond understanding. Why Pinker thought he needed a Power Point of his talk I don't know. Perhaps he's seen enough students -- yes, even the supposedly elite ones at pretigious Harvard -- are so accustomed to getting their information from a screen rather than a human being in front of them, that he thought, reflexively -- without considering [what hubris!] the probable audience would be made up of many older people who still know how to listen to a human voice and don't require extensive outlines to follow. We probably would have followed a talk with some depth and insights about language and might have been inclined to purchase his book. I'll never buy another Pinker book.

Whatever ... I expected a good hour. I got all those bad vibes; I simply expected greater intelligent and some degree of human kindness and was disappointed.

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