JOE: You wrote her letters? SCHUYLER: Mail. It was called mail. NELSON: (fondly nostalgic and kidding it slightly) Stamps. Envelopes. JOE: Wait. I’ve heard of it. It was a means of communication before I was born.
–from You’ve Got Mail
Technology is taking over the world. Not really news, I know, but I believe those of us who can still remember a time before cell phones and the internet have a certain responsibility to occasionally point out the fact that we are in the midst of the slickest coup ever known in history. And I am it’s number one casualty.
I love technology. I love my laptop and my iPhone, my iPod and my wireless router. I love facebook and blogger and YouTube. And, it’s true. I love email. I love that I can type one message and send it to a hundred people at the same time. Email saves on paper and the cost of stamps. It saves time. My message is delivered instantly, and I can have a virtual conversation with someone who happens to also be sitting at their computer, checking their email every 30 seconds or so. Or, if that fails, I can facebook chat them. If, that is, we’re friends on facebook.
Who even needs a phone anymore, let alone stationary and personalized return address labels? I use my phone to get directions to the nearest coffee shop and to look up movie times. If I need to get in touch with someone and I don’t have email or chatting capabilities, I text them. Why go to all the bother of pressing their name on the screen (who really dials anymore?) and calling them when I can just type a quick text – in techno-shorthand, no less?
I’ve been sold. I love it all.
But where technology has gone perhaps a step too far is in its current drive to abolish books. Okay, fine. Get rid of mail and stamps and phone calls. They were a time suck anyway. But books? I have to make my last stand here, I’m afraid.
Yesterday morning, Amazon announced that the Kindle has surpassed its biggest selling product of all time: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. A book. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t see the benefit to this particular brand of technology. I mean, reading a book on a Kindle doesn’t save you any time whatsoever. It still takes the same amount of time it would take you to read it in printed format. Kindles are also not more convenient in terms of what-you-need-when-you-need-it — books travel just as easily. And sure, you can store lots of books on a kindle, more than you could ever possibly take with you to the beach or on the train, but really. How many books are you planning to read at one time??
The publishing industry is flailing. And my blind following of technology makes me, at least partly, guilty of its demise. Even though I’m aware of the dire state of the newspaper industry, I still read the New York Times online. And even though I subscribe to a few magazines and journals, for the most part, if I can get the content online, I do. But I draw the line at books.
I don’t do so to be a curmudgeon. I do so because I believe we have to leave some hard record of our existence behind for future generations. If print news fails and people stop writing letters and postcards and all records of life become totally electronic – then how can future generations learn of history? I’d like to be able to trust that the gigabytes and terabytes and petabytes of our supercomputers will hold this information indefinitely, but I’ve had one too many hard drive crashes to be that naive. And if all else fails and there is no lasting remnant of our society but our literature, then future generations will have all they need.
Technology’s steady march toward progress has systematically eliminated some of the finer nuances of society. We may find, in the end, that the progress was good and that we could, after all, live without more cumbersome forms of communication. Maybe the fact that letter writing is a dying art and that people don’t actually speak to another human being for sometimes days on end will turn out to be the better way of doing things. Maybe it will be looked upon as the technological dark ages in which people didn’t know their neighbors and paranoia and mistrust ruled the day. Or maybe, just maybe, ours will be the era of lost records. A black, gaping hole in the history of man that can be traced only as far back as December 27, 2010 – the day the Kindle surpassed the sale of books.