Saturday, 10 July 2010

Electric Nightmares

It would be fair to judge me as a 'technophobe'. I've never owned a snazzy phone, a games console, a TV, a car, an iPod or anything similar, and intend to keep it this way for as long as I can manage (I tried to compromise with Daniel - we can have a TV in our house if we can also have an Aga, but he didn't think this was quite fair). These things all seem so impure to me; tainting what is an exciting world in which to adventure, dirtying it up with petrol and pixels, taking away the requirement to think and create, providing us with immediate access to everything we want, and fuelling the removal of all curiosity and adventure.

My resistance to these things is easy and unemotional. I prefer to pretend they don't exist, but it doens't hurt that I know that, really, they do. However, one recent addition to the modern world fills me with such hatred and fear that my skin starts to itch: the 'e-book'. Luckily, this doesn't seem to be a trend that will catch on; Amazon may be killing the book shop, but the e-book hasn't yet taken over the book.

However, it still exists. And it exists because somewhere, people want it, and people buy it. People download books, and read them from a screen. This I simply cannot understand! I can't imagine curling up in bed at night with a calmomile tea and some bright screen* tucked under my arm. I can't imagine waking up on a rainy Sunday morning and reaching out from the covers to switch on my book. I can't imagine stuffing a computer into my backpack and cycling down by the river to spend a sunny afternoon lost in Moscow or Hogwarts. I wouln't use an e-book to fan myself when it gets too hot, or rest ot over my eyes as I lie in the sun. I can't write notes in the margins or pencil birthday messages in the front cover when I find something special in the dusty corners of my favourite book shop that friends would love. Secondhand e-books won't come with the fusty mystery of previous readers; there will be no suspicious marks on the page, no tell-tale signs of a relaxing afternoon coffee splashed down the spine, no insects flattened into the story. As I read steamy McEwan chapters I won't be slightly too aware of past fingerprints on the page, and I won't wonder who else's tears have fallen onto the ink describing the only real heartbreak I've ever known.

On lonely afternoons I love to thumb through my bookshelf in search of something to fit my mood. If nothing fits, something else will have to d0 - surely the only way I'll ever get round to Ulysees? Technology means I'll be able to download whatever suits me right there, an easy way to avoid the discomfort of long words and centuries-old grammar, Russian family trees and astrophysics. And what happens when you visit someone's home for the first time? With no bookshelves to nosily delve into, do you ask to view their 'My Downloads' folder instead? The prestige of the bookshelf will fade into obscurity, and no one will know that I read Camus in French or that I'm pretending to understand Kant.

That first evening in Daniel's university room was, for many reasons, one of the most exciting in our relationship. The getting-to-know-you process was carried along by my review of his bookshelf, his CD collection and the photos on his walls (as well as his to-do list, which included the task 'buy accordeon' - this remains to be crossed off 18 months later). Where will that buzz of intruige and excitement come from, once our tastes are hidden away in the wires of a machine? The best debates and discussions will be left aside, passions and enthusiasms will need extracting if they are to be shared.

Further to this, yesterday I bought a new CD, from which I had only heard one track. I didn't 'Spotify' it, I jumped in and took the risk, gambling my £6 in the hope that at least 50% of the album would be as good. That evening I lounged with Daniel, the music dancing out from his speakers the way I had hoped it would. Inside the album cover were some of the most beautiful drawings of sealife I have seen, and we lay reading the cover notes, admiring the drawings and listening to new music with an open mind. All of the above also applies to digital music.

For years I have been afraid of the touched world; dirty fingerprints smearing over my belongings, threatening me with their histories and their infections. But the sterilized digital world scares me much more. Everything hidden away compact in its own file, untouchable, unreachable, lacking joy and passion simply because it is too abstract to understand. No stories and emotions to speak of - simply pixels and wires in a world humans will never reach.

*I have no idea how the e-book works; whether you read on your computer or if it's a special device in its own right - bear with my technological ignorance, please, I like it this way!


  1. Yeah, yeah! How can a screen become your book?
    I love technology; I love computers and all that goes with that...but a book is a book. Not a screen. A screen just can't smell like a book, or feel like a book!

    "petrol and pixels" was definitely my favorite phrase in there! so interesting :)

  2. I used to think I would feel like that. But then I got a laptop which is small enough to stuff in my handbag or take to bed with me, and I realised that for my dysfunctional eyesight, it's much better to have a book where I can just adjust the font size depending on how bad a day it is - rather than faffing about with a magnifier. Sorry.