Ancient Tech

February 28, 2009 § Leave a comment

I’ve been in Florida for a week and went swimming for the first time today. It was lovely; I came home and promptly passed out. I was woken by the harsh ringing of Charles’ evil telephone—it’s an old-fashioned instrument, the color of dried blood, with a crocodile pattern, only used by telemarketers. This is because since 2007 he’s been checking his messages at most twice a year in order to subtly persuade people to call on his beloved iphone or go away. Some can’t be persuaded.

He came in the bedroom and took it off the hook to stop the ringing, but off course I soon had to get up to deal with the busy-signal yammering, and the sight of the receiver dangling from its curly cord brought back so many memories of hope, agony and loathing. Do kids today ever feel this amorous dread? They must want someone to call and someone else not to, fear calls they have to make, and so on. But the phone itself doesn’t seem to become the personification of what they feel; rather it’s a part of them, like their own ears (which makes it so upsetting when teachers confiscate them). If a woman were to rip her ears off for bringing her news that broke her heart, or mildly annoyed her, we wouldn’t all sigh with recognition, or complain, “What a cliché. Can’t these screenwriters ever think of something original?”

Which reminds me of Jeff Bezos laughing like a hyena on Jon Stewart the other night, discussing the Kindle. Stewart talked about the feel of a real, paper-and-glue book, its low-tech homey comfort. Others have rhapsodized about this. I could too—though I’d also like a Kindle. What we’re afraid of is losing everything we’ve projected onto books: their understanding, their silent dignity, their assurance of immortality (for some). Their independent life.

Once, I was idling in a bookshop, as I did so often in my youth, and saw a book on a low shelf, no dust jacket, with the title, Phone Calls from the Dead. I glanced at it several times, checking that it was really there and that was the actual title, but I didn’t pick it up. It stirred too many emotions, and not because I believed any of the departed had my number. But someone had written a book about it, the book had been published, and the shop had ordered it. The idea was made flesh. It was like seeing a voodoo doll that looked just like me, one pin quivering in the heart.

No way I’d get that feeling from an online list of titles available on Kindle. Anyway, I can read books on my iphone.

Now we’re going to the beach again. It’s 9:30, Saturday night, we’ve been hard at work since dinner (an early dinner that felt like lunch since I’d slept half the afternoon) and we’re taking the last of the wine to the dark gorgeous crash of the waves.

some books

some books

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