Thanking Steve Allen


Millions of Americans end their day in front of a television set. A few jokes from Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel or Jimmy Fallon and they’re off to dreamland.

If you like late night television, thank Steve Allen. He hosted first episode of The Tonight Show on September 27, 1954. Steve Allen was a prolific composer and author. He died in 2000.

Allen’s last book was “Dumbth, The Lost Art of Thinking,” a lament over the decline of basic knowledge, critical thinking and reason.

Sixteen years later, he probably would write “Dumbther.”

Information has moved from our brains to our finger tips. Type a few key words and Google does a pretty good job of giving you the information you’re expecting. No need to remember a thing. Slip your thumb up and down your smart phone screen to be entertained by the meme of the day (pictorial representation of a cultural trend). No more need for words. Pick an emoji to respond to a text message or Facebook post. No need to express how you feel.

Memes and emojis have their place, but they make us lazy. A search engine is no substitute for learning. Flipping a thumb up and down a screen can never take the place of reading. And emotions are better expressed by words, laughter, tears and hugs, than the thousand variations of the smiley face. In the age of the emoji complex and important issues are “dumbthed” down into shallow, one sided arguments. Conservatives are good, liberals are bad — or the other way around. Character and society are formed by conversation — stating a position, learning you are wrong, modifying and improving your view of the world. This is the richness of being human. To hand over thinking to a search engine, reading to a Facebook feed, or feeling to a smiley face is just plain dumbth.

Reading, talking, listening, thinking, empathy – This could be the start of something big.

Bill Reagan is executive director of Loaves & Fishes of the Rio Grande Valley.