“The opinions expressed on Twitter have no relevance,” Eco writes, “since everyone is talking—those who believe in the appearances of Our Lady of Medjugorje, those who go to fortunetellers, those who claim that September 11 was planned by the Jews, and those who believe in Dan Brown.” (He frequently mocks Brown, the author of fanciful, alternative-history fictions like 2003’s , which suggested that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and began a dynasty of French kings.) In the liquid society many millions bid for attention, apparently driven by the sheer pleasure and excitement of being noticed.
In the past, says Eco, people assumed recognition or praise was somehow earned, attached to the display of some skill or virtue widely prized.
Now, however, it generally doesn’t take much to merit a legion of “followers,” a profusion of “likes.” It often just means laying claim to a parcel of media space.
In a 2002 piece Eco already spotted this trend, pointing to the endless procession of untalented people rushing to appear on television reality shows to air their scandals and sins; or who, when a camera appears in public, jostle to position themselves before its lens, eager to “wave ” to those watching at home.
In a 2008 column he describes one French website, “Homeric” in its conspiratorial fantasies, that blames the Jesuits and their shadowy collaborators, the Knights of Malta, for sinking the Titanic, assassinating John F.
Kennedy, and plotting just about every other cataclysmic event of the last century.
(But at least, he cracks, “you no longer need to ask why people read Dan Brown.”) In a 2009 column on living in the computer age, he declares himself “no traditionalist,” noting that he happily supplements his huge print library with easy-to-use digital editions of the , among other tomes, on a capacious hard disk.
Still, he acknowledges the limitations of digital media, including the inevitable arrival of obsolescence in which, for example, floppy disks are followed by digital diskettes, and then rewritable disks, and then USB memory sticks—with each change tied to costly upgrades in computer hardware.
Writing about blue jeans, for example, he admitted that, as he grew rotund, he had to stop wearing these comfortable pants.
“True,” he said, “if you search thoroughly you can find an (Macy’s could fit even Oliver Hardy with blue jeans), but they are large not only around the waist, but also around the legs, and they are not a pretty sight.” The essays in Eco’s posthumously published , Silvio Berlusconi.