(Ok, this rant was written before I discovered I could butcher sentence structures to get to the point- thanks, poetry. But that’s what rants do : they simply go on and on)
The problem with ‘virtual’…
(and, by this, I guess I also mean the problem with ‘digital’…
I mean the object-less
… so, ultimately the “sensory-less” (which probably makes it all, basically, senseless)…
The problem with all-things virtual, at heart, is their lack of permanence
The limited (non-existent?) possibility for situated re-encounter they offer.
The books I read on a Kindle are less likely to stay with me than the ones I read on paper. They stay less with me because they don’t become part of me in the same way.
Their lack of materiality makes them less weighty in so many other undefinable ways.
But let’s try to define this.
* * * * *
The power of the book on the shelf.
[Which you see, fleetingly, from time to time, if it’s a resident in your home.]
The power of its cover.
And its touch if you dare handle it.
The power of its smell, more than anything.
That smell that takes you straight back to the place and time of your first read.
Be it your 15-year old Christmas binge on Tolkien or your 20-something Sylvia Plath all-nighter.
Your experience, as a reader, is inprinted on the book.
Not just the story, but also the countless situations, the skids from apple-bites, the ink-smears, the rips of the page, the dried flowers (disintegrated, by now, but such a powerful reminder of your crazes, any craze; of all of these previous personnas you were, so intensely, decades or just days ago)
The digital book experience, any screen experience, does not have that power.
It flattens out the layers of experience. It flattens the fonts, as it does the moments associated with your devouring of them.
Same highlight function
Millions of time & place situated variations lost
Every book-read is not just the story it tells. It is also the story it lives, it builds with you while you are reading it.
Because you don’t just read the book. You handle it. You smear it. You crush it. You fold it and twist it. You hide it. You place it here, and there. You rub it in all of those corners that have been part of you, at some point.
that greasy café table. that wet grass.
that smoky carpet. that muddy bench.
And those moments get captured in the actual object.
You live the moments. The book records them for you. Every page is a chance to store – to press – one more smell, one more fleeting moment that could not be preserved in any other way.
The screen will transport you momentarily. But the moment will be gone.
The object – the mighty book – will also hunt and preserve your moment for you.
The moment’s essence will marry the paper and stay with it forever.
It is your loss if you decide to give this up.
If you decide that reading a book has only to do with the written story. With the words.
* * * *
In the same way we lost something incalculable when we (yeah, the mighty masses) gave up on vinyl (there, every scratch would contribute to your individualised version of your favourite music), we are losing something huge, perhaps the most meaningful part of it all, if we allow the stories we read not to be physically scratched by a bit of our lives.
They are just short-term distractions.
They won’t be easily embedded in our reality.
They won’t contribute to the capture & archive of memories
They won’t make our past come back, physically, as it is possible via their object counterparts.
* * *
So, I want to make a plea for the object.
The object, each and every object, which is charged with the essential task of projecting our fantasies.
the humble cassette.
the CD booklet
the mighty book
I want to celebrate the object that is single-mindedly dedicated to tell you this or that story. One story, preciously told, one at a time.
Not the multifunctional device, which will chant the sublime while dropping you work emails & storing spreadsheets; sweet-talking you into euphorias while trapping you in the banal requirements of Outlook scheduling, Word-Office reports and Powerpoint blah-blahbling
To be meaningful, you must take sides
I can’t plunge into my imaginings in the midst of all the banality you are designed to help me navigate.
You are designed to capture and retain the least meaningful aspects of my life.
You keep the charts while you ignore the chocolate stains.
You, in all your forms (laptop, tablets, smartphone, music drone) are condemned to remain as meaningless objects, mere vessels for monotone digits, digits and more digits in all their endlessly identical guises.
You cannot capture my moments.
So you cannot become part of me
You may overwhelm me with information
But you cannot (don’t know how to) contribute to define me