February 27, 2012

Practicing for extinction: learning to e-read

This x-mas, an iPad came into our home. It was invited, like any good vampire, and now I fear it's too late.

It turns out there are these things called e-books, which are like books except that they don't actually exist in meatspace. And I've started to read them. It makes me feel kind of dirty, offending my finely hewn luddite sensibilities. It also makes me feel disembodied.

One of these things is not like the others.

I have the sense that we, humans, are practicing for our extinction. Bear with me. The other night I was reading a collection of short stories and I became irritated by not knowing how close to the end of the story I was, and how long the one after that was. Were this a real book, I thought, I could just flip through the damn pages.

And then I realized I was an idiot, and by tapping in the middle of the screen the little numbers and dots would show up at the bottom and it would tell me how many pages remained. Duh. And it occurred to me that I didn't know how to read an e-book, not really. I'm not used to the feel of a hard electronic device in my hands. I'm not used to carefully avoiding touching the "pages" of the "book" in my hand. I can't seem to figure out a comfortable way to "turn" said pages. I miss the tactile sense of progress as real slices of tree flip from right to left; numbers at the bottom of a screen are no substitute.

We are told that the content is the same and that's all that matters. I almost believe it. Maybe I'm even trying to believe it. But an e-book isn't a real thing. I can't touch it or put it on a shelf (not a real shelf, anyway). Even though there's still a physicality to e-reading--you still have to hold the stupid thing--it feels like practice for not having a body. When content is all that matters, we won't need the containers. Whether we're cyborgs or pure energy transhuman consciousness, our silly, needful, individual human bodies will be as obsolete as liner notes and book jackets. *sniff*

Yep, I'm overthinking. Like software-in-training.

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