The long, slow days of yesteryear are gone. They were already beginning to disappear when my grandmother and grandfather were children. By the time my parents were born, they were vanishing in earnest. Once I got here, they were pretty much gone.
Yeah, I’m indulging in some serious melancholy, etc. But when you realize what I’m talking about, you might join me. Technology is a wonderful thing, with amazing uses. But, just like anything else, it can have its downsides. There’s one particular downside that I notice most often.
Now, anyone who knows me knows that I NEVER hurry, unless there’s an emergency. Now, that’s not to say I’m late, or I don’t get things done on time. It just means I subscribe to the “haste makes waste” theory of life. If I have to get somewhere on time, I leave early. When working on a project, I sit down and ponder it so I can work more efficiently, instead of rushing it.
Since I don’t like hurry, you can imagine my reaction to the modern use of technology. It’s hurry, hurry, hurry. Everywhere. It’s sad. We used to wait weeks to hear back (via letter) from a friend. The anticipation was great (unless it was an emergency). When we’re in town, instead of walking over to a pay phone to call home, we get our cell-phones out of our pockets while driving down the road. Punctuality has gone from being an expected virtue, to being an automatically assumed state of being (with out hyper-accurate clocks). We get angry when someone makes us wait five minutes longer than we expect. We buy goods online and, for a small extra fee, they’re at our door by “next day” shipping. It’s even becoming common for our visual media and audio media to be delivered via the internet.
We’re always in a hurry.
And books don’t fit in our speed-and-efficiency obsessed world. Writers fit in even less well. We make our living (or our hobby) with an anachronism. Writing, at least writing novels, is a slow, inefficient process. Good writing requires endless rewrites, sleepless nights editing that one bad sentences, and is subject to the whims of the annoyingly inconsistent muse. Reading books isn’t any better; it’s slow, requires far too much mental energy to understand them, and we can get confused as to the author’s true intent. Watching a movie or a documentary is far more efficient, information is given to us in a medium that requires much less thought to understand, and there’s little ambiguity in visual media when compared with the literary medium.
Funny thing is, for all the anachronistic nature of books, they continue to do well. One of the biggest online sales platforms on the web makes millions of dollars on print books alone. Schools still use text-books, novelists write series a dozen entries long, and newspapers still sell actual papers. A signed first-edition copy of a book is worth far more than any e-book version of the same novel. The feeling we get when we step into someone’s personal library filled with leather-bound copies of classics is still amazing.
Why? Is there some intangible, immeasurable attribute a printed book has than a computer never can? The smell and sound of old paper as we turn the pages? The beauty or even the spartan simplicity of the cover, be it lovingly leather-bound or plain color-printed cardstock? The feeling that we are touching, reading, knowing, the same pages that someone first read a dozen years ago, a quarter of a century, even a millennium ago? Is it the feeling of awe at the idea of knowledge, concepts stronger than steel, being set in the fragile medium of paper and ink? The anticipation of the hours, days, weeks, even years that it might take us to fully understand what we are reading?
I don’t know. But I’m in no hurry to find out. A question like this deserves to be pondered for a long time, without hurry. Probably while reading a good book.