Living life micro size. One bit at a time. I know my sentences are getting shorter, but hey don’t blame me. After all, we all prefer the micro and the mini now. Even attention spans are getting shorter. We no longer like the longer routes to understand or comprehend things, so cut to the chase. Twitter? Heck, we don’t even have time to go and buy a book for goodness sake, let’s download some e-books instead and flick the page, oh, I mean the button. Is it just me or are we clicking our life away?
The other day my mother took out all her old newspaper cuttings from a box she keeps tucked away in her drawer. Some articles were worn out and an old paper smell emanated from them. She proudly took them out and smoothed away the tiny and ancient ruins that were lined at the sides of all the old cuttings. I told her she can find all these articles in the archives online, but she dismissed my suggestion with a wave of her hand. For many like my mother there is nothing like the old smell of a paper and the settlement of ink on it. But these days paper and ink have practically become obsolete thanks to keyboard typing and texting.
I was standing at a popular electronics shop and Lady Gaga’s song was giving us a lesson on a (sadistic) bad romance. “You might as well get one,” said the gentleman standing beside me. He must have noticed my pensive gaze as I stood staring at the Sony e-reader in front of me. “I don’t know, I am more of a book person, I’m wondering if I can accept a book turning into a gadge,” I told him as I dug my hands deeper into my jacket pocket. He threw his head back and laughed and the silver stud in his ear glinted. He tried to convince me that nothing can beat the e-reader because it saves so many books for you to read. Well yeah…was my reply. “But if something happens to it, then all those books are gone!” I mustered up this reply to his technologically justified thought. He looked at me as if I had just flown in from Pandora and said I could always ‘back up’ those downloaded books and transfer them back to the e-reader. I nodded in complete understanding and started staring at the gadget in front of me, contemplating if I would turn into a prospective buyer. No, he was not a salesman but a customer who was there to buy the e-reader for his mother (she had suggested it would be the appropriate present for her this Christmas).
I started sifting through the electronic pages but somehow my fingers just missed the tactility of a real page, the sound of it turning and the special smell that emanates from even the newest edition. He collected his new e-reader and flashed me a smile before leaving. “Don’t forget you can’t carry so many books with you,” he stated emphatically and sauntered off. I just stood there and sighed. It is getting increasingly difficult to stick to the conventional style of reading books, especially when the technologically inclined critical mass is moving ahead at a torrential speed. I admit I am not the kind who adapts easily to new technology. My Cancerian nature makes me crabby and nostalgic every time someone reminds me that the tightly bound pages are in the process of being replaced by this thing that resembles a page and loads up words digitally. Soon, the market will be brimming with products such as Amazon Kindle, Sony reader and Barnes and Nobel nook, and it has already ignited a spark in the publishing industry since the publishers will have to revolutionize and introduce books digitally.
The notion of literature, great or mediocre, is in the process of shifting. Researchers are now emphasizing this shift to see how people practice their writing skills more openly on mediums such as Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook, creating a technological revolution in the traditional methods of reading and writing. The boundaries between recreational reading and analytical reading is getting blurry, because reading on the internet has become more common, and with gadgets such as e-readers we tend to read on the go, just like getting a cup of coffee from a drive-thru. But even the advocates of new media encourage a disciplined approach to reading a text, where the reader is fully engaged and present, a habit we must nurture and a lesson we must impart to the young.
Book lovers are fast turning into electronic readers. The size of the e-reader might resemble a page, but it does not have the real feel of paper. I am an avid user of highlighters and sticky notes, but the art of annotation might also change and become more technical with the usage of electronic bookmarks and notes.
For years the wooden bookshelves in my study have carried the weight of paperbacks and hard covers alike. I am not relieving them of the responsibility anytime soon. But I wonder if I should give the e-reader a try? But then again, real books don’t need a warranty. They only need care.
Zareen Muzaffar lives in Toronto