Electronic Future & Vintage Past
The more I read about Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s Hispanic nominee to the US Supreme Court, the more I dislike her. She appears to be presumptuous, opinionated, dogmatic, intimidating, dismissive, vociferous and racial – great vices for a judge. I’m quick to jump to the conclusion myself, an aberration mitigated by our natural tendency to judge either way. My ideas are fanned by a darling icon on the right-side of my desktop that launches the Times Reader. It’s so easy to get updated on worldly events now; HTTP trickles factoids round-the-clock into my laptop to satiate my thirst for news. No more waiting for the newspaper guy to roll the day’s paper and tie it at the center or bend it like a boomerang before targeting my balcony.
It may sound ironical, then, when I say that I’m not exactly a fan of the new way of news delivery. It’s more convenient, but it’s also less fun. I miss spreading the newspaper on the table or bed, I can’t flip pages and make that inimitable sound, I can’t fold and unfold, I can’t smell, touch, drop, scatter, gather or stack – all essential sensory delights intrinsic to the experience of reading the real thing.
An article from yesterday's covers Amazon’s Kindle 2, a milestone in e-book readers. The author owns one but laments missing the old way of reading books, magazines and newspapers. I wanna own the Kindle (or Plastic Logic’s e-reader) one day, but when I have one, I’ll have enough reasons to gripe about yet another technological marvel stripping us of the fond experience of holding a weighty book, cracking open a new arrival, smelling the glossy pages and searching for something in the bookshelf. The Kindle makes procuring a book in the US ridiculously easy. You punch your credit card number and the book is wirelessly transmitted to you within seconds. If what you’re looking for is a classic, you may visit Gutenberg and download it absolutely free of cost. The comfort isn’t without merit.
Magazines will suffer the same fate. Already publishers are realizing that dwindling sales will eventually make their present business model unsustainable. Many, like TIME and National Geographic give out all their contents free of cost on the Web. Some, like India Today are going as far as replicating the magazine using fancy Flash or PDF. Others are charging for the luxury. The fun element of discovering an important cover story while casually browsing the local newsstand may be a thing of the past soon.
Music has altered course like none other with the advent of the digital age. I’m no longer as desperate and resigned to fate I once was in the hinterland of Jamshedpur. I don’t need to wait for my summer vacations to visit Symphony at Esplanade in Kolkata to add to my fledgling Jazz archive. Now I simply need to search for the artist or album and download the bytes via P2P. The music is free (though mostly illegal, I must confess), the music player is solid state (iPod Nano) and I can transfer my music between devices in seconds. Best of all, I don’t need to worry about the magnetic head’s friction against the tape eroding and eventually destroying my music. My music is less tangible now, it’s almost surreal - which explains why I no longer sleep with audio cassettes…or keep swapping favorite cassettes between covers…or even buy a 2nd copy of The Very Best of Jim Reeves.
Even the pen-&-paper relationship of yore now seems to be headed for a slow divorce. Paper is increasingly used for hard copies of electronic documents rather than as something you scribble on. The pen is being replaced by the stylus to tap on virtual keys on touch-sensitive screen or write a note on a screen armed with handwriting recognition software. Letters are no longer indispensible, they were long replaced by email, which made way for blogs that broadcasted personal egos to anyone willing to listen, which, people realized were still not worth the effort. Further economizing on diligence, it was finally the turn of social networks and 140-character limited tweets to send the message across.
I have a dream of detoxifying my life of digitized craze and embracing analogue warmth – like the warmth Dad’s valve radio radiated.