Sparky in the Digital Age

Originally published April 24, 1963.

As I delve deeper and deeper into the comic strip, I continue to learn what an amazing human Sparky was.

He was ever curious—and before there was Google, he sought out professional friends when he wanted to explore ideas he had for the comic strip: Ophthalmologists for Amblyopia, general doctors for ear piercings, and, of course, veterinarians for all of Snoopy’s queries.

“I once inquired of a veterinarian how birds stay on tree limbs when they fall asleep.  He told me that their claws receive a message from their brain after they have fallen asleep which tightens a certain muscle, keeping them from tumbling off the branch.  He said a similar thing occurs to horses, allowing them to sleep while standing.  Humans do not have this ability. When I am asked how Snoopy remains on top of his doghouse after falling asleep, I am now able to say that his brain sends a message to his ears, which locks him to the top of the doghouse.”—Charles Schulz

Sparky knew authenticity was important to his readers, as these examples show—authenticity delivered with humor.

Originally published November 30, 1965.


Originally published June 3, 1974.

I also have to admit that I am a Luddite, and I was okay with a nuisance like getting up to change the channel on the TV. Agreed, it was wonderful a few years later to be able to sit, remote in hand, and scroll through channels.

When we moved to the country, we got a satellite dish, which was pretty cool because we could turn it in a different direction and pull in the whole world, it seemed.

If something went wrong, Sparky, in the comfort of his chair, dialed the Satellite company who reset the dish, and all was well. So, Woodstock followed with a satellite dish:

Originally published May 10, 1985.

I often try to imagine Sparky, who escaped the digital age, coping in 2023.

I remember in the 1990s when television stations began to proliferate, Sparky’s comment was, “A thousand stations and nothing worth watching.”

Well, 20-plus years later, I barely watch television because, as I say, “I can’t turn the TV on.” (An exaggeration, but not much of one.)

It makes me think Sparky would have looked askance at so much in the world today.  I can’t call the satellite dish company, there is rarely anyone to answer the phone, and if someone were to answer, they would undoubtedly require a secret number or name to verify that I am entitled to their help.

If Sparky had a mobile phone today, it would probably be an old flip phone to use solely for emergencies, eschewing all the delights for which most use their phones, and I think Sparky, ensconced in his own world, would ignore the social media buzzing about him.

But then, it hit me in the face that what Sparky DID do for 50 years was itself, social media: a short message about a current topic of interest to many who shared it freely. So maybe the world is not so different. Today, we just have more ways to express ourselves.

And I DO know something Sparky would have used in this new world. Rather than disturbing a friend, he could have picked up the telephone to call his local library with the question, “How do birds stay on the telephone lines when they land and the wires bounce up and down?”

—Jean Schulz

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