From Miami to Ft. Lauderdale to Tampa to Washington D.C., New York, Sao Paulo, Santiago, Quisco, and finally back to Santiago, it’s been such an insane past 10 days that I have no idea where to even start other than the front page of the Sunday paper. Front and center of today’s El Mercurio, is the headline “Piloto alemán dice que él derribó avión de Saint-Exupéry.” (“German pilot says he shot down Saint-Exupéry’s plane.”)
Antoine de Saint Exupéry was, of course, the French aviator, explorer, and author of what was once – along with millions of other children all around the world – my favorite book, The Little Prince. Like any good American kid growing up in the 80’s, I discovered the book through the cartoon. While my mom was taking a double course-load at Washington State University, I would hang out with various college students and stare transfixed at the television each morning to watch le petit prince catch a ride on some comet to a new exciting destination and eventually return to his own private planet to water his garden and tend to his ever-demanding rose-girl. (“She’s awfully vain and very bossy but I try to make her happy because she really is so beautiful.”)
A few years later I discovered the book in our elementary school library and I remember thinking that it must have been based on the cartoon. Though not as exciting as the cartoon, there was something about the anti-adult propaganda of the book that appealed to my five-year-old revolutionary sentiment.
More than 15 years later I picked up the book again, this time in Spanish, while in Costa Rica and it was immediately obvious why I found the Little Prince so appealing as a young child. He had everything I’ve ever wanted in life: an idyllic refuge to escape to and call his own, but also an endless chain of meaningful interactions, exciting adventures, and a search for knowledge. This is still the scenario I am trying to create for myself today.
While in New York I was able to meet up with Noel Hidalgo and Megumi Nishikura in a small breakfast joint in the East Village. Both are incredibly interesting. Megumi is finishing up her thesis for a master’s degree in peace studies. She’s interested in whether or not projects like Hometown Baghdad, which encourage civilian communication between two countries in conflict with one another, help promote peace. Noel, who has been traveling for the past year on an “open-source journey around the world documenting free culture, social innovators & global change”, pointed out that when Alexander Bell was trying to market his newest invention, the telephone, he tried to convince investors that it would surely lead to universal peace, enabling world leaders to call one another on the phone to work out their differences rather than sending bombs.
In my usual snarkiness, I said it was comforting to know that techno-utopianism has such a long and consistent history. But, of course, snarkiness is always a cover for insecurity. I’ll admit, I’ve given the line “Global Voices will save the world” a few times myself. Sometimes I feel like I have to. Few people are content with communication for the sake of communication; a mere tendency of human nature. Rather, communication is most often framed in a context of communication for peace or democracy or development. Will Global Voices’ coverage of Iranian bloggers have any influence one way or the other on a potential US invasion? It is comforting to think that it could, but realistically, I doubt it.
The part of this morning’s article that caught my eyes was this:
“Si hubiese sabido que era Saint-Exupéry, no le habría disparado jamás”, reconoció el ex piloto.
You might think that the German pilot said that only because Saint-Exupéry wasn’t part of the war, but in fact, he was flying at that moment to collect intelligence on German troop movements two weeks before the Allied invasion of southern France. As a soldier, it was clearly the German’s duty to shoot down the plane. But as a reader of literature, he is saying that he would have acted differently.
So many of us love The Little Prince because it manages to capture an essence of humanity. Of universal humanity: our search for freedom, adventure, and love. I don’t think anyone in the world who has read and appreciated The Little Prince would be capable of shooting down Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s plane. We feel too connected to him.
The Little Prince, however, was written in a time when we actually sought out media. When we would spend 30 minutes if not three hours in a bookstore searching for the right story. Most of us flipped through its pages when we didn’t have calendar reminders, emails, and text messages causing our cell phones to vibrate every five minutes. We weren’t bombarded by plasma display billboards, viral marketing, and infotainment. We were right there with the little prince, on planet B612, and then thirsty in the Saharan desert. Today media has atomized. We consume content in portions too small to let our imaginations run wild.
Don’t get me wrong – the fragmentation of media is part of the democratization of media, an important step forward. But as more and more and more content comes to us, will we ever form a relationship with it like we did with the Little Prince?