To everything there is a season, and a 10th anniversary — in Big Dig lore, the 2006 opening of the Albany Street ramps marked its completion — is a time for taking stock. A full decade since this thing was wrapped up. Boondoggle or bargain? If we could turn back time, what would be done differently for better outcomes — or would this mother of mega projects be attempted at all?
At the age of three, a young David Bowie discovered some makeup in the upstairs bedroom. He put lipstick, eyeliner, and face powder all over his face, and when his mother caught him in the act, she was startled by his transformation: “[F]or all the world he looked like a clown.” Although amused at first, she warned him not to play with makeup because “makeup wasn’t for little boys.”[i] A cursory glance at the rock star’s extensive career reveals that his childish fascination with the outré has never actually waned. When Bowie first discovered rock music in the 1950s, he was consciously aware of the medium’s inherent theatricality and the ways in which rock music could become a conduit for radical forms of self-transformation.
The truth is that most of us read continuously in a perpetual stream of incestuous words, but instead of reading novels, book reviews, or newspapers like we used to in the ancien régime, we now read text messages, social media, and bite-sized entries about our protean cultural history on Wikipedia.
In the great epistemic galaxy of words, we have become both reading junkies and also professional text skimmers. Reading has become a clumsy science, which is why we keep fudging the lab results. But in diagnosing our own textual attention deficit disorder (ADD), who can blame us for skimming? We’re inundated by so much opinion posing as information, much of it the same material with permutating and exponential commentary. Skimming is practically a defense mechanism against the avalanche of info-opinion that has collectively hijacked narrative, reportage, and good analysis.