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Al Gore: Intellectual's Intellectual

During an interview with The New Yorker one day, Al Gore was asked about the cable-television station which he was developing.

"In his uninterrupted answer," editor David Remnick recalled, "he mentioned: the brain-imaging center at New York University; 'The Alphabet Versus the Goddess,' by Leonard Shlain; 'Broca's Brain,' by Carl Sagan; an Op-Ed piece in the Times about the decline of reading in America, by Andrew Solomon; the lack of research on the relation between the brain and television -- 'There is just nothing on the dendrite level about watching television'; Gutenberg and the rise of print; the sovereign rule of reason in the Enlightenment; individualism -- 'a term first used by de Tocqueville to describe America in the eighteen-thirties'; Thomas Paine; Benjamin Franklin. 'O.K., now fast-forward through the telegraph, the phonograph.' O.K., but we didn't fast-forward: first, there was Samuel Morse, who failed to hear the news of his wife's dying while he was painting a portrait -- 'You know, he has a painting in the White House, if I remember correctly' -- and therefore went out and invented a faster means of communication. 'Now fast-forward again to Marconi... now that's an interesting story'; the sinking of the Titanic; David Sarnoff; the agricultural origin of the term 'broadcast'; moving right along to 'the nineteen visual centers of the brain'; an article on 'flow' in Scientific American; the 'orienting reflex' in vertebrates; the poignancy and 'ultimate failure' of political demonstrations as a means of engaging the aforementioned public sphere -- 'I mean, what do you really have? A crowd of people holding posters with five words on them at most hoping for a TV camera to come along for a few seconds of airtime?' -- and, finally, Gore's own 1969 Harvard thesis, on the effect of television on the Presidency and the rise, at about that time, of image over print as a means of transmitting news."

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