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[444] How to Travel with a Salmon – Umberto Eco

” Unfortunately, there is one inexorable law of technology, and it is this: when revolutionary inventions become widely accessible, they cease to be accessible. Technology is inherently democratic, because it promises the same services to all; but it works only if the rich are alone in using it. ” (151)

Umberto Eco’s assembled essays are both impishly witty and bitingly fun. From the advice on eating in a commercial jetliner (which comes in handy as I was about to be served a meal while reading the book), the trick for going through customs unmolested, the downside of traveling with non-endurable goods to dealing with the leaky coffee-pot from hell in luxurious hotel room, Eco demonstrates his acute vision of the absurdities of modern life. The innumerable gadgets that claim to make life simpler and convenient also make us hoarders. Fax machine became a godsend when the postal system failed, but soon the fax introduced a new element into the dynamics of nuisance. Until the fax, the pests paid (for the soliciting phone calls and the postage for flyers), but now the fax user was harassed by a swamp of missives at his own expense because he had paid for the fax paper.

Eco’s essays are constructed on the irony of modern technology and its drawback. Cellphone epitomizes the very catch-22 and to my interminable delight he is not shy about lambasting the pathological cellphone users for their inordinateness and lack of respect for others. Those whom Eco repudiates are ones I never have the fortune to be spread from the company: people who cannot resist their compulsion to interact, they can never enjoy a moment of solitude. Nor are they aware of their inner emptiness.

So much for humane conveniences, Eco imposes one question, the same underlying one that addresses the extent to which we make sacrifices for such petty conveniences. This collection is not to be missed if you are keen on light and diverting read but that which sheds light on what it means to be human in the age of technological and informational boom. The few essays that delve in aliens and history are lackluster and a bit off the tangent.

256 pp. Trade Paperback. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]


4 Responses

  1. I’ve read a review of this somewhere and will definitely read it. However, the book that I wish to read most from him is Prague Cemetery. Heard a lot about it.

  2. Welcome back to blogging Matt! I hope you enjoyed your holiday! I love the bit about the cell phone usage. I feel sorry for people who can’t even stand in line at Togo’s and order a sandwich without checking their messages or something on their cell phone. People these days are afraid of solitude and afraid to just “be”.

    • Thanks, Kathleen. The essays dated around 1970s to late 1990s, but I find his sarcasm on the advance of modern technology so relevant even today.

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