State of the real union

hero_20100127Not 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.


  1. Frank Ahrens on January 28, 2010 at 1:27 am

    Well, I don’t know about that, but I *loved* “El Mariachi!”

  2. Ann Gerhart on January 28, 2010 at 2:30 am

    So here I stand in the kitchen, just home from work — a little constitutional law professor smackdown in the middle of the State of the Union address can really push those newspaper deadlines to the edge — and am reading your post about the big device on my little device.

    Usually I am right there in high foment myself — GO Jaron! GO Jaron! — but I’m hungry and captivated again by the buratta and pork belly in Venice, even though you told me about it almost as soon as you ate it. Because there’s no app for that sense that hits the tongue, that touch that activates the processors we call tastebuds. That’s what’s “magical,” Mr. Jobs, and I was watching him today and thinking,he knows. He can recite all the stats about millions of downloads and from the stage in Cupertino or wherever, but there’s not a Ponce category with an app to fix his thinness. And there won’t be one next quarter, either. So whadda we really talking about here? Can it keep death at bay? No? Moving on.

  3. fabdcchick on January 28, 2010 at 11:18 am

    I totally agree! The internet killed my paycheck and I do get a little
    queasy every time I see a new gadget. Why do we need this? I mean really?
    I could understand if this was a product that we actually need in society.
    But in reality we all know this is just another way for Apple to introduce
    pretty new products that they know nerds who can’t get laid will stand in
    line for days to buy…..

  4. Ben Montgomery on January 28, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    Watch this stuff cycle all the way back to a newspaper (called iPaper, of course, and touted at an expo for its foldability and big screen).

  5. Chris on January 28, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    As a DIYer and a grassroots sorta gal, I find your perspective refreshing on so many fronts.
    It’s sad to go to my library and find there are fewer and fewer books and fewer copies of those books.

  6. Tamara on January 28, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    Since the Great Journalism Layoffs of the Aughts, I have had the great pleasure of working from home.
    One slow day, I chose to cave. I purchased “Twilight” and headed to Flying Star.
    Within an hour and a half, I had at least five new conversations about the book series with people from at least four generations, male and female. I loved it.
    The experience was exactly what reading a non-digital book was about. It’s more than the words on the page; written words recede into a void when they do not inspire connectivity.

  7. Dan Zak on January 29, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    Okay, this is just a “thank you” for linking to the Rodriguez essay.

    “In that case, who will tell us what it means to live as citizens of Seattle or Denver or Ann Arbor? The truth is we no longer want to live in Seattle or Denver or Ann Arbor. Our inclination has led us to invent a digital cosmopolitanism that begins and ends with ‘I.'”

    Exactly and, like, yikes.

  8. Judy Coode on February 1, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    Thank you for this. (God’s Gardeners, here we come.)

  9. Tracy on February 4, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    Thanks. You just saved me time with your movie reviews. I am glad you had a great vacation!

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