Alain de Botton offers some sweeping cures for what ails the media.
A User's Manual
by Alain De Botton
$26.95 List Price
Recently, my daughter asked me to rewind the car radio so we could hear a song again. I was forced to explain the rudimentary technology known as broadcast, which doesn’t obey your commands so much as spray out an ignorant blast of waves in every direction. Her confusion at this ludicrously antiquated format led me to describe a battery of outmoded gadgets, like stationary telephones and bulky, blurry TV sets.
As strange as it felt to ramble on about the bad old days, it was striking how vividly the major technological shifts of recent years could be encapsulated in the little inconveniences of the recent past. History textbooks, with their broad strokes and sweeping generalities, may one day refer to advances in the digital realm without ever evoking how humans once awoke not to soothing forest sounds from an iPhone but to the screeching and honking of a clock radio, its alarm apparently designed to re-create the sheer panic and dread incited by a WWII air-raid siren.
Among those authors dedicated to evaluating the peculiarities of everyday life, Alain de Botton is perhaps the most stubbornly devoted both to the blanket statements of textbook generalists and to the tiny, illustrative details of the storyteller. What other author would dare to write books on philosophy, romantic love, architecture, travel, social status, and work, illustrating each grandiose proclamation on society and culture with carefully chosen dramatic close-ups and evocative micro-examples? In The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (2009), de Botton evinces the dehumanizing efficiency and head-spinning