Luddite Rant

I TRY NOT TO BE a Luddite, I really do.  I have a laptop and use it daily to write my mystery novels. I have a cell phone and even take occasional photos with it, although that still seems wrong somehow. I communicate with friends via Face Book.  I own a Kindle and download books. I use Wikipedia. And hey, look—I write a blog.

And yet, all of my electronic marvels are like the bastard child of Marvin and Arthur Dent in the Hitchiker’s Guide–they only use about 5% of their brain capacity because I’d really rather be making a cup of tea.

It’s not that I despise or fear technology (although, truly, SkyNet and the Clone Wars seem only moments away most days) I’m just frustrated by the necessity of learning about all this crap, then re-learning it when the newest iteration is “released,” and then listening to people talk about it constantly. Seriously–when did “app” become a word? Worse–when did we all learn what it meant? Even worse–when did we start hearing people talk about the latest ones? Did you know you can “download” an app that allows you to pretend to pop the bubbles on bubble wrap?  I kid you not.

If the internet is the 21st century equivalent of the telephone—meaning that it changed the way we wish each other Merry Christmas, learn about revolutions and the latest fashions, research our term papers and contact each other from vacations in Australia and Bora Bora—then why is so dam’ difficult to use?  Every new tool to access it seems to require a skill set tantamount to running a nuclear power plant (and don’t get me started on actual nuclear power plants).  If telephones had been this complicated in the beginning, we’d still be using semaphore flags. Or maybe telegraphs—which was another simple-to-use technology that changed the world.  Tap a button, send a message. What could be easier?

You know what I miss?

I miss picking my photos up from the drug store and then sticking them in actual albums. And then turning the pages of the albums and enjoying the photos.

I miss people dropping in.  Remember that?  Until about ten years ago (not that long ago really) people used to visit their friends because they hadn’t been in touch for a while.

I miss calling people on the ‘phone and actually reaching them and talking to them. And then picturing them in their living room or bedroom or kitchen and not interrupt them hanging from the side of a cliff somewhere or worse. When did “How are you?” get replaced with “Where are you?”

I miss handwriting.  It’s been a long time since I received any kind of hand written note or letter or card. Hell, it’s been a long time since I sent any.

I miss feeling smart because I know the difference between pica and elite.

Yeah, yeah, it’s all great.  GNP is up; information has largely replaced extractive and industrial production; standards of living have risen all over the place; no parent ever needs to lose a kid because they can “track” them with their iPhones; lovers can break-up without having to meet face-to-face (ye gods); plagiarists have an easier time of it (ye gods again).

We’re all in touch constantly and seem more detached from each other than ever, mostly because we’re so busy trying to figure out the latest version of whatever amazing thingy we’re using to keep us in touch.

I’m never out of touch, and yet sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I was. Maybe I’d feel more connected.

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Kindling

THIS WEEK I WAS without my Kindle for three days because I left it in a friend’s car. The fact that I had it with me in her car may give you some idea of how attached I am to it. Maybe its enough to know that being without it was like being without, say, my crack pipe.

There was a time–about 18 months ago–when I didn’t have a Kindle. Whenever I finished a book, in common with nearly everyone else except the truly geeky, I went to a bookstore to buy another. There were limitations, because bookstores weren’t open 24/7, and no bookstore contained every book I wanted, so sometimes I had to order it and wait. And those limitations provided their own limitations on the amount of reading I could do.

Now of course those limits are gone. Setting aside the disdain with which Amazon is viewed by a lot of my thinking friends, I’m a good customer. When I finish a book at 1:30 in the morning, I press a couple of buttons and–lo and behold and voila–I have a new supply of crack… er…reading material. This has played merry hell with my credit card balance, and also with my ability just to put the dam’ Kindle down. I have no reason any more to ration my reading. I can read 24/7 if I want to. I’ll never run out of things to read.  Unless I lose my Kindle.

How does this affect me as a writer? Well, apparently our appetite for reading is more voracious than ever. We are all reading more, not less, than we were before the e-books revolution. This seems to bode well for me finding a receptive audience for my work when I’m a published novelist.  Also, e-readers can pick up material that is self-published on the web, so that if I don’t have a traditional publisher for my work I may find a virtual one.  That seems to bode well for me, too.

All of which should encourage me to write my novels and, in fact, being without my Kindle this week has meant that I have additional hours to devote to writing.

But here we run across the dichotomy: Owning and using a Kindle has meant that I’m contributing to the possibility that my own writing will find an eager market. But, owning and using a Kindle has meant that I’m devoting more hours to reading and fewer hours to my own writing, opening up the possibility that I won’t have work ready to publish any time soon.

Having lost it–even temporarily–has made me very uncomfortable. So uncomfortable that I doubted the wisdom of getting it back.  Fortunately my friend returned it today and so the decision was out of my hands.  It’s sitting on my nightstand as I write.

So far, I haven’t turned it on.

But the night is young.