As I recently engaged in a serious and stimulating dialogue with a friend, I recognized
an amusing undercurrent girding our impassioned proclamations...
I could only conclude that we had become old geezers.
Not really. (As an aside, I dislike that particular delineation.) However, I could
not deny that our laments sounded hauntingly familiar. One generation scoffing at
certain mindsets of the one proceeding it, reminiscing about the halcyon days we relished
in our younger years when circumstances were distinct and the world seemed much simpler,
even though human beings never have been. We sounded like parents, even though neither
one of us has children.
This specific portion of the conversation began when my friend mentioned his growing
distaste for Wikipedia and its unreliability, along with Internet culture in general.
His assertion that anyone could assume a veneer of authority when discussing a subject
online has its foundations. It is upon many an occasion that boldness eludes one,
except when sitting anonymously behind a computer screen, where one can become an
"expert" without any real threat to one's credibility beyond, perhaps, a vitriolic
e-mail or message from a complete stranger.
The discussion did not end there. I responded to him with a few observations of my
own, moving well beyond the initial subject. As always, my friend received more than
he bargained for as he read my incessant ramblings. Now you have been afforded the
same wonderful opportunity!
Books and Libraries
Using his comments about Internet culture and Wikipedia as a springboard, I mentioned
how people used to conduct their research. They would spend hours at the library poring
over books, reading newspaper clippings, glancing through magazines, and using that
old machine we used to know as the microfiche!
In this age of immediate accessibility to numerous sources of information, we find
it arduous to sit down and read a book, to follow a complex line of thought for more
than a moment.
Days ago, I came upon a new product: "Kindle,"
a $359 wireless reading device that holds over 200 titles and, according to the description,
"looks and reads like real paper." An impressive gadget, one that I am certain many
consumers will find both enjoyable and useful.
I too have access to over 200 titles--at my local library. There, I've the physical
pleasure of holding a book in my hands (and even borrowing a good number of them)
for a whopping $0. Not only this, I have the added bonus of reading the words on actual
paper, not an electronic facsimile of it.
This is not a criticism against Ipod users, far from it. Rather, it is an expression
of disappointment that, in a time when most songs are downloaded, I can no longer
enter a music store (those that yet exist) without encountering rows of empty shelves
or endless aisles of used Compact Discs. Downloading music onto a portable device
that I carry with me--further feeding into an individualistic, isolationist society
where we all walk about in our own little worlds--does not compare to the delight
of purchasing a release (be it in vinyl, cassette, or disc format), taking it home,
and savoring it as it plays on a stereo while you gaze at the cover, read the liner
notes, and actually sit still as you listen.
My friend mentioned his intense displeasure at statements like, "CDs are so old fashioned!"
I am still thinking of 8-tracks and wondering why on earth one of our local music
stores replaced all of their gloriously nostalgic vinyl records with clothes!
"No need to save up for or take time to 'get into' an album - it's just brash fast-food
Another astute observation by my friend, the above quote reminded me of our society's
general unwillingness to embrace the concept of delayed gratification. It is no longer
"necessary" to discipline yourself by budgeting and saving money for an item when
you can live beyond your means through the use of a plastic card that allows you to
charge everything. Enjoy it now, pay later...with interest.
All this being said, I am grateful for many of the technological advancements of our
day and safely presume that my friend shares these sentiments. However, it is a painful
irony that while technology has served to increase our methods of communication and
accessibility to information and goods, it has also encouraged us to become more disconnected
from one another, to retain less of a focus, to simply consume. In some ways, we have
been stripped of simple pleasures; in others, we have become emotionally stunted:
islands unto ourselves, anesthetized to the value of patience.
As I reflected upon my friend and I, our mingled thoughts during this discourse, I
experienced something beyond amusement. I felt gratitude for the blessing of growing
older despite any changes I might deem unpleasant. In this regard, I am all too happy
to resemble my parents.