Sunday, October 17, 2010 i spent my summer staycation, part 2...

Even if you go to stroll in the sand but once, and that once being on Staten Island,if you take along a bit of text to relax with, it qualifies as a "beach read". Which, believe it or not, has become a subject for argument and, to wit, this entry.

So then, blogging (a subject explored heretofore...somewhere in heretofore) notwithstanding, the Electronic Lifestyle has become the gravity center of our Gutenberg Galaxy (and yes, I know: "Stop with the McLuhan refs all the time! We get it! You think the guy walks on water!") and not just in the obvious (like Facebook, natch--in which I must steadfastly decline to participate--and porn--which is always a novel experience--and Youtube, tho' not that much different from the former two and perhaps even a logical extension of them) ways.

(That should be enough parenthetical inclusions for one sentence. And this dispatch, I think.)

At some point or other, the whole issue of Darwin's theory will be addressed, and what it specifically means to the physiognomy and "mindset" of the species. But at this juncture, it seems appropriate to bring up as this entire entry is going to be limited to three items only, and open news items as well so there will be online links--YES! LINKS!--to their origins. Why? Well, because it worked for not enough justification, but a nice co-incidence. But more, because triangulation, in the traditional X, Y, and Z axises, is the natural method for locating anything in space and time, more or less, and applying the same to the social environment is a no less-viable model. This is one thing I have learned from all the science writing I've been soaking up for the past few years: we may think "about" subjects but we think "with" models. So, the reason I apply this model is that, while the subjects are actually all part of the Electronic Lifestyle, each one is part of a different "media". Hence the continued "Marshal arts" stuff.

First up, a device. No, not the ubiquitous phone/PDA variety, but Kindle. The way to tell that something in on the crest of a wave is when you, as I did, start noticing them more and more on metropolitan public transportation: subways and buses. When I got one, it was just before the price reduction, so I attribute the almost overnight blossoming of them--out of bookbags, purses, pockets, etc.--to their descent to the level of impulse-purchase affordability. So, now they are now everywhere, like a sunny spring after a wet winter in Death Valley, and in a similar profusion of colors, covers and configs.

However, there is also a meaning behind this: people who own them are reading more than they used to. The article referenced here [LINK ALERT!] is merely a confirmation of other observations as noted below, but it needs to be cited for two very distinct and dissimilar reasons: the first is germane to this particular entry; the second I will get to in a subsequent missive. For now, the only observation worth quoting is that in a Marketing and Research Resources study of 1,200 e-reader owners, 40% said they now read more than they did with printed matter, with the remaining 58% staying about the same. How significant is this? Depends upon the totality of your grasp of its implications. The 40% are simply saying "more", not how much more or what more. And, as well, the other 60% simply register no change, without being asked to distinguished if there is a difference between what they read on their device from that which they read in print, such as periodicals or website entries in any greater number, and not segmented into print/electronic media categories. This would be a much more interesting bit of data, but the subject of the article is limited to e-books only.

Owing to a near-total antipathy and well-nigh aversion towards possessions, I found the idea of a digital book something close to the perfect solution. Now, being a rather economically-minded individual, I did not especially want to give bookoo bucks to to build up my library. So, the other convenience is that there are enough online sources--such as the Gutenberg Project (see! relevant!) (ok, so one more aside, everybody needs some slack) (ok, so that's two, and this make three, so STOP THE MINDLESS PROLIFERATION OF REDUCTIO AD ABSURDUM MISE EN SCENE GOING ON LIKE HIV IN A T-CELL-LESS CIRCULATORY SYSTEM!!!!!) (Really, it was a ridiculous restriction from the giddy-up...)

Where was I?

Oh yes. Also, Google has out-of-copyright volumes in a variety of formats (.azw, .mobi, .etc, etc.) and there's a few net-based fan-blogs such as this [LINK ALERT!] one which uses the legal fiction of sending "reviewer" copies (which isn't really such a canard, at least here, as I expect to make further commentary on same at some point in the future). Further, after MUCH experimentation, found some free apps out there to convert files from one system to another. [TIP...not parenth--nevermind. Kindle likes .txt files. They are the simplest there are and can be created by scanning in books through an OCR program. And, if you have B&W pictures as part of the package, or charts or graphs, opening the same through a web-based app, like Firefox, and saving the whole as .html or .htm, is an ideal setup for an app called Kindle Creator which turns it into a very nice volume-sans-volume.]

The point of this is to point out that any prejudice towards e-books as being too limited is ludicrous.

But that's not fromm whence the major objections stem. Friends of long-standing and recent acquaintances, when informed of my choice of new media, have had reactions from raised eyebrows and wrinkled noses to expressions of disbelief and downright disgust. The accompanying statements are, as you would suspect, along these lines.

a) Oh no, I like to [curl up in bed, settle back in the armchair, linger at the coffee shop over--fill in your favorite furniture/ideal locale] and I just couldn't with a _______.


b) I just like the [feel of the weight, turn of the page, smell of the paper, PLUS: the endpapers, the binding, the covers, etc.] and its just so [cold and antiseptic, impersonal--as in the same font for everything--and it changes the text and uses buttons, etc.] and it would change the reading experience too much for me.


c) I like having a wall full of them, just to stare at, and then go over and pull one off the shelf, like getting re-acquainted with an old friend, or making a new one.

There are other responses, of course, but they are all pretty much variations on these themes. And it must be acknowledged that they are all valid aesthetic/ethic choices which cannot be disputed. Yet none of them addresses the essence of the reading experience, at its core:

d) The interpretation of symbolic representations of bound morphemes (the substance of spoken words) into complete and easily assimilable units of data to be transfered to an individual's consciousness to entertain or inform and hence, perhaps, lighten one's burden of life or illuminate a particular aspect of same.

Admittedly, that's pretty clinical, and it is supposed to be. Like Darwinian theory, it comes down to just a few basic laws that, when stripped of all the hoo-hah whipped up by mouth-foaming mysticism and religious rant cant, amounts to something as easy to understand as physics or geometry. When you read a book, it can be a), b) and c) individually and severally, but nonetheless: you would not be reading it if d) wasn't at the end of it.

My friends are not, as a rule, neo-Luddites into smashing machines for taking away that which was precious and permanent and replacing it with that which is disposable and transitory. And yes, it is easy to delete files from the Kindle. And easy to add them: click & drag. Does this take anything away from the writing though? This is not the dispute: it is the media.

I then pose the question of exactly WHEN it became an issue? Ah! There's the rub. And another LINK ALERT! OLDNEWSFLASH: "By the end of antiquity, between the 2nd century and 4th century, the codex had replaced the scroll..."

Ok. So drift back with me to, oh--say, the court of the Emperor Constantine. So, here we are at the Dardanelles, the crossroads of Europe and Asia, somewhere between 306 and 337AD. You just get told: we're scrapping the Roman Gods and going with Christianity.
Oh. Well, fine by me; never liked all those burnt offerings...though will miss some of the paeans, like Virgil, sure.
Don't worry about him; we're going to keep him on as a pagan saint, and he'll turn up later in Dante as a rehab. Oh, and we're getting rid of scrolls and going with codexes.
Now wait a minute! Or a quarter-inch on my sundial, at least. I like my scrolls! I like the way the papyrus curls. I like the way it crackles and gets all tawny after a while. I even like the knobs on the end! And my whole library is full of circular pipes! How am I going to fit These 'bound-volumes'...they're just a fad! No, no. That's fine for the kids, but not me!

(Yes. I rather liked that bit too.)

Old habits die hard. What's worse, however, is old furniture, it would appear. But resistance to change should be for things of value--not objects of value. Yes, after the apocalypse (or the Rapture, if you number yourself among the descendants of the people Constantine converted in his big HRE upgrade to State Religion 2.0) you can't read a Kindle: no power. Right. Didn't see many people in "Mad Max" or "Beyond the Thunderdome" really ensconced in Cattalus or Voltaire, did you? And how many hardbacks did you see dad shlepping along with son on "The Road"? Reading, then, is truly a luxury of civilization (and reading cartoons, where representations of the Prophet are concerned, only of Western civilization.) The argument for the permanence of printed matter is logical only insofar as you have a public with the leisure for study of the material. Or, as I believe Oscar Wilde put it so well: Giving a man a book is an impertinence, unless you also give him the time to read it.

There is an alternative, however. I am reminded of a favorite book of my youth, "Farenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury, making the case for him being one of the finest allegorists of our day but most certainly one of the ABC's of science fiction (Asimov and Clarke being the other two way back when). The "Book People" were forced to give up physical volumes and commit their most beloved work to memory; in essence, turning themselves into biological equivalents of e-readers. This was then, and remains today, an utterly beautiful concept. Yes, they DID love their covers/paper/bindings/endpapers/ink/fonts, but once they were forced to make a choice, they opted for containing the KNOWLEDGE OF THE TEXT. As in sex--carnal knowledge of. As fucks with your head to think of a book about books being destroyed to keep them meaning can you keep this book by memorizing it to repeat back to others and, if so, does that violate Bradbury's copyright?

I could go on and on but really this is enough. Thesis stated, logical reasoning, proofs and supports. And a few yucks on the side.

That is all said to say this: Darwin.

Yup. Natural selection and adaptation. That's all it is. Put them together, make it in plain speech and it sounds like this: the world of reading has changed, and changed more than once. It has evolved. Sometimes you make a choice to resist; sometimes you go with the flow. If it doesn't matter to you how you do it, have no particular aesthetic barriers or prejudices, then as long as it enters through the eye, in the medium of sentences (unless its poetry), its fine.

But if you need to get all tactile on my ass, fine. Get yourself a crimson Louis Vuitton faux-alligator wraparound. Yes: an accessory after-the-fact artifact!

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