With only a quick glance at today’s political climate—the strident social media landscape, the balkanized geography between red and blue states, the bombastic president—you get an unmistakable message: We don’t know how to talk with each other anymore, let alone build common ground. An expert in linguistics explores our new argumentative culture to find ways that Americans of different beliefs can start believing in each other again.
For centuries, spiritual faith has been shaped in part by how its scribes form the letters of their sacred texts. This is particularly the case with Judaism. We visit with three scribes in three very different corners of Jewish faith—Jerusalem; New York City’s Orthodox neighborhood in Brooklyn; and the liberal enclave of Berkeley, California—to understand why people still go to all this trouble. Along the way, we walk across the religious aisle to the Muslim world to see what happens to the Urdu language of India and Pakistan when its script gets computerized.
On the leafy edge of residential San Francisco, a simple Greek revival building that once served as a church for Christian Scientists has been transformed into the library of the future. Behold the world’s only Internet Archive—home to 11 million books and texts, 279 billion web pages, 100,000 software programs, and 120 statuettes, just to name a few of its holdings.
One would think that the invention of digital lettering for our commercial signs—on everything from shops to billboards—was nothing but an industrial step forward. As it’s turned out, yesteryear’s signs, which were all painted by hand, offered a beauty and personality that today’s automated version has been unable to duplicate; more important, a hand-made sign lasts much longer. Our correspondent explores what’s left of the old tradition, and stumbles on small but lively seeds of revival.