So Old It’s New

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“Whoa! That’s crazy!”

This is the common exclamation among Jeb’s 11-year old friends, when he decides to wow them with our family record player.

They’ve never seen vinyl. They have absolutely no clue as to how to put the needle on the record. They gather around as if observing something from outer space. Full of intrigue and gasping in amazement, they look at the turntable with as much awe as the most high-tech device they’ve only Googled about.

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“But how does it work?” they ask, bewildered. “How does the sound just come off of that black disc?”

For them, it’s been a digital world most of their lives. Music libraries stored on a computer, playlists added and deleted to an iPad or smart phone. Seeing something tangible, technology that can be held in their hands, (particularly something that’s not cold and silver), is a foreign experience.

When I liken the vinyl record to a compact disc they start to grasp the concept of a recording being “pressed” to a medium that can playback.

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“That’s so cool!”

I think so too.

Technology so old, it’s new.

An Ode to Pulp and Paper

All of his addresses are there in the palm of his hand, but it’s not a smart phone he holds. No touch screen showing contacts. The Bohemian is flipping actual pages. As in, real, pulp-made paper, bound together in a rare relic known as the Address Book. Yes, he’s still got one.

I’m reclined on the bed watching him reference this little piece of the past, as he addresses a box to be mailed.

“You’ve still got an address book,” I say from the pillows.

“I’ve had this for sixteen years.”

“You know, everyone just has their addresses on their computers or their cell phones these days.”

Pen in hand, he’s writing letters neatly on the box, eyes carefully moving from page to label. “But if something happens to your phone, you lose all of your addresses.”

Right.

I love that the Bohemian still has an address book.

“I had an address book – the same one – for over twenty years.”

“Really?” He rarely rushes. Slow as molasses. Not a multi-tasker. He’s listening to me, but quite intent, filling out his postal custom’s form.

“My grandmother gave it to me in high school and I had it into my thirties.”

I sound as though I’m lobbying to be included in the cool club. Trying to prove that even if I have acquiesced to technology by inputting data rather than handwriting names, that this segue hasn’t happened unnoticed. I still honor the value of a book, even if mine has transitioned to virtual.

It was in the name of simplicity and streamlined effectiveness that I finally recycled the 5×8 inch book that had twenty-plus years of characters inscribed. Many people were long-lost to me, addresses and phone numbers outdated. Heck, there wasn’t even a place on the template to enter an email. The internet didn’t exist when the book was printed.

A digital database of contacts can seem more neat and tidy. Easily updated, accessible anywhere, hyperlinks, et al. It goes without saying that if you don’t keep a back up, then all is gone to the ether. But such was the case for anyone, back in the day, that lost their address book, as well (though those king-sized, desktop Rolodexes weren’t going anywhere).

That’s the thing. I never thought of a “back up,” and I never lost that address book. The blue and pink flower design on the cover faded through years of schlepping, but that bridge to all my people wasn’t going to be misplaced. It was precious.

There were doodles in the margins. Ink-laden entries in greens and blues and reds. Sometimes I would have my friends fill in their phone numbers, the pages holding the handwriting of the very characters it charted. Flipping through, eras were revealed. Addresses in Vermont and New Hampshire chronicled my year in New England. The Oregon names came from that scorching summer near Grants Pass. Entries with monikers like “Pony” and “Sunshine” recall the months I spent camping with the nomads at Rainbow Gatherings when I was 21.

That address book was rich with texture. So full of third-dimension it had a smell: the scent of fading paper layered with dried flowers and forest floor, as real and tangible as the people documented within.

The Bohemian, he’s a bit of a keeper, like me. Holding on to his address book for sixteen years. But he strikes an even finer balance. No clunky 5×8 sentimental scrapbook, logging a lifetime journey, as much as listing zip codes. No, his address book is a mere 4×3 inch example of streamlined efficiency. Smaller than a cell phone, with paper light as a feather, detailing only the necessities.

He’s now done with his packaging project. He puts away the address book in the single box that sits neatly on the shelf of the closet that houses his ten shirts, three pairs of pants, and zero clutter.

I am not that zen. And I don’t know if I’m included in the hip club of retro techno-rebels, either. I use iCal and Google Contacts. But I used to have a real-life address book. And it was really cool.

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I am no Luddite, but…

My father replies to yesterday’s Out of Range post with a question: “Are we Luddites?”

Well, I’ll be honest, I had to Wikipedia that one to discover that, no, I don’t believe I am.

(Link here, but quickly defined: English textile workers in the 19th century that violently protested against the machinery that was replacing them in the mills).

File:LudditeViolent protest, I do not support, but their questioning of the virtues of modern conveniences was wise. For them, it impacted their very livelihood. Machines replacing people.

Are there common threads today?

There was a time in the mid-nineties when I lived on a tiny, secluded island, walked to work at a cottage store where I beaded necklaces, and swore I would never own a computer. Clearly that has changed.

I am quite grateful to use technology as a tool and it has enhanced my life (the Archives, here, as a case in point) in many ways.

So what’s my beef?

Yesterday I complained that with all of this technology, I feel implicitly obligated to answer to it (text messages, email, voicemail). I wonder if I am simply anti-social and today’s tools just won’t let me get away with it. True, I can be a hermit, but I think it’s more than that.

To be clear, I care deeply about the friends and family that take time to call or email me. So, it’s not the communication with people that bothers me.

What I find interesting (and concerning) is how we relate to these communication tools and how these means of communication affect our relationships with each other.

Take texting at the dinner table, for instance. The question has been posed as to whether or not this is impolite.

For me, the answer is obvious, but for many, it’s perfectly fine (in fact, necessary) to be linked in with whoever, wherever, whenever. Dinner table with friends, no matter.

In my view, this is a case where technology not only creates, what I believe, to be a false sense of urgency, it also diminishes our ability to connect with what’s right in front of us: our very friends and family (and food!) we came to share with.

The Luddites might very well be drop-kicking smart phones by the dozen, should they see a table full of friends, eyes locked to screens instead of each other.

Ironic, this device, promising more accessibility to ‘right now’, when it can actually remove us even further from the present.

But I am no fundamentalist. In truth, I have thoroughly enjoyed being at a restaurant with friends, exchanging a few text messages with someone who wasn’t able to join us that night. In this case, the phone brought more connection, especially for the friend that couldn’t make it.

But at some point in the evening, I was done with the small screen and was ready to look into the faces of everyone at the table. Enjoy the restaurant. Though I noticed, that my friend still kept her phone close, ever-ready for the vibration that would alert the next incoming communication.

For me, there have got to be times I cut the cord.

And the time when I plug back in will vary.

I guess I’m hoping that my friends and family will understand this. Know that I love them, even if I didn’t call.

I’m not suggesting a revolution, but perhaps a quiet protest once in a while. Power off our phones at dinner. Look into each other’s eyes, face to face, tech-free.

We can answer emails tomorrow.