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The Humiliation of Mr. Martin

An important lesson of l’Affaire Steve Martin bears mentioning, I think. (In case you haven’t followed it, his on-stage conversation with Deborah Solomon at the 92nd Street Y, largely about the world of art, as depicted in his new novel, An Object of Beauty, was interrupted in real time by a staffer with a note saying, “Discuss Steve’s career.” Afterward, to compound the insult, the organizers gave ticket buyers a refund. The Times reported this under the headline, Comedian Conversation Falls Flat.)

Mr. Martin himself responded with aplomb, in at least two forums that I know of: the Times Op-Ed page, which published his eloquent account, and his Twitter feed, which momentarily turned serious:

Steve Martin on Twitter

Let me just add the following thought.The root of this debacle lies in an utterly modern and misguided use of communications technology. The event was broadcast live around the country over closed-circuit television, and viewers were invited to report their instantaneous feelings and opinions by e-mail.

Too much information, too fast. People who are typing e-mail about their feelings are not, meanwhile, listening. Until an interview (or music or performance) has been heard and absorbed, the listener cannot form any opinion or judgment worth holding, let alone sharing.

There is a larger category of technological folly to which this belongs: the phenomenon of instant polling, where subjects are asked to turns dials or press buttons to register their opinions in real time about a political debate or an unreleased film. This is just nuts. It’s an attempt to measure something that does not yet exist.

P.S. The good news: his Twitter feed soon recovered:
Steve Martin on Twitter, cont.

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