Kindling

Composed on the 3rd of August in the year 2009, at 1:13 PM. It was Monday.

Editor's Note: I'm misrepresenting myself here, because this essay clearly demonstrates that I do not have an editor. I toyed with the idea of fixing all the errors below, but in the spirit of the essay and for the sake of laziness, I'm going to leave them all in. So, yes, I know it's a debacle. As usual, address your concerns to noreallyidocare.com.


I've been on the old school side of bookishness since I was allowed to use the term old school unironically. Breifly, that meant I still wrote letters instead of email, now it just means I don't own a kindle. However, I dislike most of the arguments againt the kindle. It's true, I like the feel an smell of a bokk. I like bookmarks and fading pages, and despite a long-standing predjiduce, I'm beginning to like notes in the margins. I can also guarantee that if I find a passage in a book I want to come back to, I can use the technology of a bookmark to find it faster than anyone could find it searching through a kindle or even google.

The aren't reasons enough to discount the kindle; the first reason for loving book is information, and the kindle is a severly more efficient way to access information. Graphic designers and bookmakers of the world may be losing ground to cosumer engineers, but any craft burns out as art once they're good and marginalized, so they should be so lucky as to cultivate dying arts while there's still grant money for actually doing them, before that money goes to anthropology students studying them. Besides, as a minimalist,1[1] I'd be a hypocrite to cry over losing a few fonts.

I am interested in information. My objections, which are completely personal, only have to do with the wayd I get my information: varied. I like to produce it variously as well: currently,2[2] I'm writing this in a lined notebook in the backyard of my favorite local bar.3[3] Writing by hand is a different mental experience from typing: not better or worse, but significantly slower. I've taken to writing by hand becvause it buffers the passion of an immediate thought. I might think of a better word by the time I get to the point where I was about to write poorer word I initially had in mind.4[4] I can think of the next thought before I finish with the current one. Despite typing ninety words a minute, I only rarely finish an essay faster for having a keyboard, I just finish each thought more quickly. On the rare occasions I have a fully formed piece in my I go for a computer. This is usually a bad idea, since fully formed essays only really hit me when I'm drunk, and since I'm already at ther computer, they tend to go public without editing. This is in fact exactly why I preferred letters: I have to firmly prevent myself from writing email while drunk, since I started losing friends, and I would still have a few of those friends if I'd had to find a stamp and go to the post office to send them whatever I was thinking. I've found a few letters the never got sent for want of a stamp, and this is why most of my family still speaks to me. I digress.

There's no direct parallel between my means of writing and my means of rading. In general, I like my information as flat as possible. I want to see lots of data at once, because my comprehension is more pattern based then narratively logical, which is why I'm a passable Go player but I suck at chess. I dislike italics, bolding, blinking, and fun colors in my text. I don't think anything lives out of context, and jumping from attetion getter to featured sidebar to footnate doesn't get me the gestalt I deserve as a busy man deigning to spend his time with a piece of media when he could be drinking.

This, again, says nothing againts the kindle, and it's worth pointing out that I don't actually have anything against the kindle. I only want to avoid losing my books. I don't think the matter is pressing on a cultural level. I can still get LP's, though I might as well burn my mixtapes. But I do need to defend myself when moving to a new apartment, which requires two boxes for clothes, three for kitchen equipment, and twelve for books. Twelve large, heavy boxes. And shelves.

I love my books, and will never let them go, because they are a different way to experience information, and different means of experience lead to differnt ideas, and new ways to connet ideas. It's odd that after two decades of education preaching exposure to as much culture and information as possible, the vogue in personal information technology is getting exactly the nugget of knoledge we want with as little fuss as possible. I love my iPhone, but I have to admit a table full of iPhones at a bar rapidly turns dime philosopher and budding theorists into citation researchers. This cuts down on bullshit, which is good, but cuts down on critical and creative thinking, which is bad. It also cuts down on wandering around information and finding your way through it, which is very bad, because having a direct route through to any fact and detail atrophies pattern recognition and the ability to connect facts and theories across disciplines and resources, skills already noticeably lacking in our world. To paraphrase Stephen Pinker, describing World War II via the trajectories of several trillion quarks doesn't impart many useful lessons, unless you did a really good job of it and left a warning for future generations, "Whatever you do, don't put that quark there."5[5]

I'm not concerned with the possibility that all education will be reduced to quark trajectories, but I am concerned with keeping things in context. I dislike highlighting in books because it encourages readers to just read the highlight, or at least interpret it as more important than its surroundings, which discourages the reader from considering the argument, and the path that led to the summation.

We've become more and more enamored of facts and figures, and the average person's arguments have become stronger for having access to this data, but this alone doesn't make an argument useful. Browsing through data in context has given way to seeking information to support a point of view, and it is necessary for an ethical scholar to not do this exclusively. Only through pitting a complete argument against another complete argument can either evolve; the data is the beginning of the process, not the end. I suspect this has something to do with why a friend of mine now refuses to talk about philosophy; he argues you can only read and write about it.

With my books, I like having two books proposing opposite viewpoints on the shelf. I like that they don't have highlights, so if I want to consider the issue, I have to browse through them, re-reading whole chapters. I like the old copy of Utne I have lying around, which has ten articles on how having siblings radically alters your life, and a sidebar, which I never would have found if I'd had to leave the surrounding article to read it, saying that it doesn't matter much whether or not you're an only child. This is not a better way of getting information. It's just different, and differences are good.

Techophiliacs have an urge to stamp out the old when the new turns consumer grade. Fortunately, nobody listens to them, and market forces–and random crowd madness–still dictate what stays and what goes, but I'm still confused by futurists' bridge burning obsessions. There's usually a place for the past, and it's sad to see it die. In my very brief time on Earth, we've already lost the mix-tape, the letter, planning your night ahead, folding up roadmaps,6[6] most diaries, and the ability to remember phone numbers. The newspaper and the magazine on on their way out. I look forward to the future, but not at the expense of the past. And finally, have we learned nothing from post-apocalyptic hollywood? We're going to need our hand-powered can openers and our oil lamps, and god forbid we want to kick back on those nuclear winter nights with a good book, I hope we still have some that don't require batteries.

1 I'm currently copying this from a lined notebook to a five year old computer using VIM.

2 Well, not anymore, see above.

3 And again, typing it up in the front room of the same bar.

4 Note from typing future: this essay was, ironically, really wordy. I'm taking it out as I go.

5 Update: the story of getting this essay online is becoming more involved than the essay, but I think it's relevant: after using my mother's laptop to access my home network and copy this essay to her desktop, I spilled coke in the back vent and destroyed it. I'm now working on another computer, after redoing my budget for the next two months, and after my mother used it to instruct our lawyer to remove me from her will.

6 I know nobody misses this one.

If you can see this, it's way to late.

Hi there! You should totally go buy my book for the low low price of 6.66! It's like buying me a beer at an out-of-the-way dive bar in Brooklyn! Not in Manhattan. Manhattan prices are ridiculous, though there are a couple of decent Irish dives where you can snag a drink for five bucks. Otherwise, you're looking at a two or three book beer.
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