So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright

Alex Castle

Frank Lloyd Wright built beautiful houses.  He changed the way a lot of people thought about architecture and he was one of the most influential architects of the twentieth century.  The Ennis-Brown house, which sits on a hillside overlooking Los Angeles was used in Blade Runner, Black Rain, and The House On Haunted Hill.

Frank Lloyd Wright is also credited with a rather odd quote: “I'm all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let's start with typewriters.”

Depending on how you google it, you will find thousands of hits.  I did not check them all, but 35 pages in, the quote is still credited to Frank Lloyd Wright.

Curiously, not a single one of those sites tells you when or where Frank Lloyd Wright said this.

Probably because he never said it.

The actual source of the quote—and I can confirm this because I was there when it was written—is a book called A Matter For Men, first published in an abridged edition in 1984 by Timescape Books, reprinted as an expanded edition in 1992 by Bantam Books.  The 1992 edition included interstitial quotes at the beginning of each chapter, allegedly uttered by a charming and curmudgeonly wag named Solomon Short.

The quote at the beginning of Chapter Six is:  “I'm all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let's start with typewriters.” —Solomon Short.

Yes, I wrote it.

Frank Lloyd Wright was nowhere near my keyboard.

And no, I don’t think it’s funny that a dead man has plagiarized me and walked off with credit for something I wrote.
Okay, this isn’t the first time that something I’ve said or written has entered into public consciousness without accreditation.  It’s one of the hazards of occasionally being quotable.

The first was something I said at a family gathering in the early seventies: “Every time I go to a cousin’s wedding, my little blue-haired aunts (several hundred of them) would all come up to me, poking and shrieking,  ‘You’re next!’  They didn’t stop until I started doing the same thing to them at funerals.”

I specifically remember making that up at a family gathering that was neither a wedding nor a funeral and getting such a dirty look from my mother that the moment is indelibly inscribed in my memory.  That dirty look told me that it was a great joke and I repeated it elsewhere more than once, several times at conventions, and probably a few times in fanzines of the period.

So I was never surprised when that same joke came back to me credited to three different comedians.  I’m sure it got repeated a lot because it touched on a universal truth of large families.  But it was my joke and I hereby claim credit for it.  I wrote it.  I said it first.

I also take credit for “The shortest distance between two puns is a straight line” and “seduced by the dock side of the farce,” both of which I said in the presence of Spider Robinson who cheerfully used them in the next iteration of Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon.

Oh, and one more —I said it in 1986 on Compuserve when someone got on my case about making unfair lawyer jokes.  I replied:  “Yes, 99% of lawyers give the rest a bad name.”  That one also ended up in my files to be used as a Solomon Short quote, but it’s now credited to anonymous.  No, I’m not anonymous.  I know who I am.

There are other examples, from other people’s work as well, but the real issue here is not about Frank Lloyd Wright and who first identified typewriters as dangerous weapons.  The issue is that the Internet is a great way to distribute mis information too.  And the truth will still be booting up while the lie is already halfway around the world.

We forget that at our own risk.

Many of us use Wikipedia as a generally reliable resource, and to a great degree it is.  Specialists in their own fields take justifiable pride in having their work accurately represented in an open-source encyclopedia.  But even as we depend on Wikipedia, we shouldn’t forget that it is a collaboration of amateurs.

If a thousand people pool their ignorance, the result is still ignorance.  It is not the equal of expertise.

And it doesn’t always help if a thousand intelligent people pool their knowledge either.  There’s a marvelous game called the Delphic Oracle.  You get a dozen knowledgeable people on a panel and ask them to predict various events and when they expect those events to occur.  If you collate the answers, you get a bell curve that is supposed to be very accurate.  The 1972 Worldcon in Los Angeles hosted a Delphic panel of science fiction writers and scientists.  They made a variety of predictions.  The 1984 Worldcon, also in Los Angeles revisited those predictions — and most of them were astonishingly wrong.

So even if you pool intelligence, that’s still no guarantee of accuracy.

But on the other side of the issue, there’s this:  The avalanche of technology has made it easy to capture everything .  Some intersections have cameras to photograph red-light violators.  Most businesses and public buildings now have security cameras everywhere, parking lots and gas stations and elevators too.  Our notebooks have webcams that can be activated by remote control.  Our still cameras can geo-tag every shot and double as video-corders.  Even our cell-phones can be used as digital recorders, still-cameras, and video-cams (when they’re not also doubling as GPS units, internet appliances, and game-stations.)  Some pundits are already predicting that we’re not that far away from having every moment of our lives recorded 24/7.

While that possibility terrifies me for more reasons than I care to list here (I just don’t like being photographed or recorded,) the ubiquity of accurate recordings would be a boon for crime investigation, civil lawsuits, reporters, reality TV shows, and especially historians.

Imagine if there had been video recorders in ancient Rome to capture the truth of Caesar’s assassination.  What if we had genuine recordings of Mozart conducting The Magic Flute or Beethoven conducting his magnificent Ninth Symphony?  Or Shakespeare’s plays recorded at their first performances?  Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg address?  Ohell, as long as I’m daydreaming, how about a backup copy of the Library of Alexandria?

Imagine what our understanding of history would be if instead of the possibly unreliable or biased reports of witnesses, we had actual footage?  Imagine seeing the men and women, hearing their voices, how would that change your understanding of events?

Digital information capture is literally going to change history.

We’re already getting some sense of it with the videos uploaded to YouTube.  The quality of recordings is only going to improve—and the percentage of events captured on camera will explode exponentially.  Future generations will have a profoundly different way of looking at our century than of all the history that preceded us.

With the ubiquity of HD video, future generations will experience our history (and all the history that comes after us) as a pageant of time collapsed into a strange mashup of ignorance, stupidity, prejudice, and occasional flashes of intelligence.
And … very likely, in the future it’ll certainly be a lot easier to identify who said what and when they said it.
In this case, it wasn’t Frank Lloyd Wright.  But right now, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

David Gerrold is a Hugo and Nebula award-winning author. He has written more than 50 books, including "The Man Who Folded Himself" and "When HARLIE Was One," as well as hundreds of short stories and articles. His autobiographical story "The Martian Child" was the basis of the 2007 movie starring John Cusack and Amanda Peet. He has also written for television, including episodes of Star Trek, Babylon 5, Twilight Zone, and Land Of The Lost. He is best known for creating tribbles, sleestaks, and Chtorrans. In his spare time, he redesigns his website, www.gerrold.com

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