Not the Obama speech, but the Apple iPad unveiling. That’s your state of the union. Rapt worship of the new gizmo, and, naturally, it’s not just another thing to pay for and plug in and carry around and fuss over, it’s salvation.
It seems like I have 100 clear thoughts a day about the renaissance (this one we’re living in, not the one that started 600 years ago), which instantly muddy and contradict themselves, and I can never quite collect them all. Because I’m not Clay Shirky or Jaron Lanier. Why just tonight, I was tippa-tapping an e-mail to Nancy, who asked for my thoughts about e-books and iPads and all that, and after a while, I wound up giving her my same old sentimental default bellyache. As Morrissey wails, Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before. I wrote:
Personally, it’s all just part of a larger sadness, filed under “the Internet ruined everything.” If I love it, then the Internet is working to make sure it disappears: newspapers, magazines, books, bookstores, records, record stores, movies, movie theaters, appointment television, cash, a printed American Express statement, and on and on. (And my favorite thing of all: a paycheck.)
And let me add this to my list, now that I’ve re-read it: the death of mail, postcards, stationery stores, getting letters, writing letters, going to the post office, doing cut-and-paste layouts, waiting for pictures to be developed …
I do hope the iPad manages to approximate the vanishing idea of a fixed destination (i.e., This is a book, I am reading it, I love the way it looks, it’s mine, what are YOU reading over there, the cover of yours looks interesting…) and also has some restorative power for the concept of copyright and the value of original content.
This reminded me of something I read in that Richard Rodriguez essay in Harper’s a couple months (or more) ago, the one about the death of newspapers and the sense of place. It was on a stack of things I read while rushing around on book tour. Now, mind you, Rodriguez’s essays have always been preciously elliptical (and written in segmented style) and they are not for fans of bluntly linear arguments, but his pieces are brilliant in their own way. Check out this AMAZING Rodriguez passage near the end of “Final Edition”:
Something funny I have noticed, perhaps you have noticed it, too. You know what futurists and online-ists and cut-out-the-middle-man-ists and Davos-ists and deconstructionists of every stripe want for themselves? They want exactly what they tell you you no longer need, you pathetic, overweight, disembodied Kindle reader. They want white linen tablecloths on trestle tables in the middle of vineyards on soft blowy afternoons. (You can click your bottle of wine online. Cheaper.) They want to go shopping on Saturday afternoons on the Avenue Victor Hugo; they want the pages of their New York Times all kind of greasy from croissant crumbs and butter at a café table in Aspen; they want to see their names in hard copy in the “New Establishment” issue of Vanity Fair; they want a nineteenth-century bookshop; they want to see the plays in London, they want to float down the Nile in a felucca; they want five-star bricks and mortar and do not disturb signs and views of the park. And in order to reserve these things for themselves they will plug up your eyes and your ears and your mouth, and if they can figure out a way to pump episodes of The Simpsons through the darkening corridors of your brain as you expire (add to shopping cart), they will do it.
That’s the exact creepy feeling I get every time these new gadgets are unveiled. And this paragraph I’ve just quoted feels like one of those expressions of a reality I sense so strongly that I am compelled to read it over and over again until I’ve memorized every word.