"My hat is off to the gadget mind."

— Newton, Joseph Fort (1876-1950)

Place of Publication
New York
Harper & Brothers
"My hat is off to the gadget mind."
Metaphor in Context
I have found Americans out,' writes a dear English friend, who is a good deal of a wag. 'They are gadget-minded. If they see a thing that needs to be done, they rig up a device, mechanical or mental, and make the thing do itself with no further bother.'

'As a result,' he goes on, 'they have created a touch-the-button civilization, and I for one admire it. Why go on doing a thing in the same old way, over and over again, if we can make a robot do it for us, and do it better? My hat is off to the gadget mind.'

To prove his point he refers to the Mark Twain story of the Connecticut Yankee at the Court of King Arthur. The Yankee saw a saint swaying to and fro in an ecstasy of devotion, and to him it was a clear case of lost motion. So he sat about and invented a device by which to harness the saint and use his motions to run a sewing machine. In other words, he put religion to a practical use.

But, my friend goes on to say, there are some fields in which the gadget mind will not work; and here he gets under our skin a bit. We tried to achieve temperance by prohibition, and it failed. We passed the law, wrote it into the Constitution and thought that the thing was done, and would stay done, or else would go on doing itself.

In the same way, he adds--rubbing it in rather sharply--we proposed the Pact of Paris; just another glorious gadget. We wrote a law outlawing war, renouncing it as a policy of nations. The Law was solemnly signed; and we thought the thing was done once for all. But, alas, we see now that much remains to be done before war is ended.

In other words, my friend argues rightly, something more than a gadget mind is needed to deal with the issues now before mankind. It cannot be done by a twist of the wrist or the turn of a trick, much less by touching a button. We need vision, and the courage, wisdom and patience to work it out, though it may take a long time.

Yes, the gadget mind is useful in its place; it can do many things. But the spiritual mind, God-illumined, is the hope of the race.
(pp. 25-6)
Contributed by Grant Wythoff
Newton, Joseph Fort, Living Every Day: A Book of Faith, Philosophy, and Fun (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1937).
Date of Entry

The Mind is a Metaphor is authored by Brad Pasanek, Assistant Professor of English, University of Virginia.