Big Smoke

’cause it’s hard to see from where I’m standin’

Yeah, But Can It Prop Up a Desk?

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This, quite honestly.

Now, most of my job is in handling technology – some would assume that such is thus my lifestyle – but I have never been swayed by any glowing box smaller than a laptop and less functional than the computer I’m typing from now. I hate cell phones, let alone the gadget conglomerations packaged as cell phones called iPhones or Sidekicks (Has no marketer ever heard of feature creep? Seriously, nobody uses 90% of your “apps”) but nothing takes the cake like the Kindle.

Way back in 2002 when I was suffering the frozen hellhole of Cornell (in the words of Jon Stewart, no less) I took a course in English that had the word “technology” in its title on the course catalog. I thought to myself, “Hey, here’s a forward-thinking professor wanting to rap to us about Web 2.0, blogging and the general state of New Media in creative writing” as, after all, it was one of those “not your run-of-the-mill English classes.” So I, an urban planning major with an incendiary politiblog, and nine electrical and mechanical engineers signed up for the course and suffered through three months of the Gutenberg Press and octavos and trips to an air conditioned bunker to ogle Sanskrit tablets just so we could hear those magical words, “the internet.” Yes, we were nerds, except I’m lying about the “were” part.

As it turns out, what the professor was all hyped up about was this electronic device the size of a Gideon’s Bible where you could scroll, very slowly, through five hundred pages of the latest NYTimes bestsellers somebody deemed worthy of converting to digital form. “It’ll revolutionize the way we see books!” We gaped. We stared. We wanted to talk about the internet.

If you can’t convince a class full of engineers about ebooks, let’s just say they’re not going to overtake the print version anytime soon. Forgetting, of course, that the sum total of printed material will never be wholly converted to digital format, despite the best efforts of Amazon and Google, it’s annoying to read anything longer than a news article on a glowing screen.

This isn’t the LP enthusiast’s lament about CDs, where the dinosaur meticulously and jealously guards the sanctity of his superior analog stockpile against all incursions of dust and mold because he’s one of the few people who can tell the difference in quality, has a lifestyle suited to Listening as an Active Pasttime, and can attest to the superior cover art. This is just because reading a book is easier than reading an ebook. And I say this as a technology apologist, who will spend five hours poring over manuals and technician babble trying to fix some arcane problem I could simply avoid by turning my computer off more than once every two months.

There’s not a flat surface in my apartment that’s not piled with books, most of which don’t exist except as print (and a great number of which aren’t even in print). There’s not a room without a bookshelf on the wall, overflowing with the timeless things. Unlike LPs, tapes, CDs, mp3s, m4as, FLAC and such, I can rest assured they will never be rendered obsolete.

I’m going to go blind in ten years from staring at this damned computer screen, I know. But until then I’m going to rest my eyes on the printed word. Not that I’m worried, of course: It fails the Rule of First Adoption.

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