45 degrees off

Seeing the same thing from a different angle.

Finding a Place in The Future for Paper and Ink

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday!  One of the gifts I was given made me think about art, how it is delivered to us, and whether or not that’s part of the overall piece.

Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered just a couple of years before I started middle school, and one of the coolest things about it was the little pads they read things on. Going back and watching the original series, I think those pads existed there, as well. We often saw them being handed off. Yoeman Rand and Her Hair (the basketweave beehive on her head is the most memorable thing about her to me) would pass one to Captain Kirk, he’d glance at it and hit a button, then hand it back. But it was in the new series where we often saw characters sitting back and relaxing to read from one of those gadgets, or doing their own writing on one. I couldn’t wait for the real present to catch up to that fictional future so I could have one!

I’m being forcefully dragged, with a bit of kicking and screaming, toward that place where the real present and fictional future meet. Adult Me sometimes wants to sit Child Me down and say, “I know it looks really cool when you’re just looking at the one thing, but it’s different when the whole world is plugged in like that. You have to look at the bigger picture.” But I’m pretty sure my parents said things like that to Child Me, so I know the response would be something along the lines of, “No, you don’t understand! You can put all your books in it and carry a whole library in your pocket!”

Maybe that’s why we experience time in a linear fashion. It prevents us from wasting so much time and energy on not listening to ourselves.

I was given a Kindle for Christmas. It’s not a gift I would have chosen for myself. It is, in fact, something I would have avoided getting for myself.  My mother, having the benefit of 30+ years of being a mother in general and my mother specifically, bought me exactly what I did ask for… a Stephen King book. It’s being held hostage on the Kindle, though.  She didn’t get me the newest model with all kinds of strange bells and whistles. She got me one of the first models. It doesn’t have too many buttons. It doesn’t have a backlit screen. She did this because she knows I’m not as quick to adjust to a wagonload of features shoved in front of me as I once was, and that I’ve complained about the idea of spending even more hours a day with my eyeballs glued to a screen than I already do. I’m not just being stubborn. I have some medical issues that make things like this very intimidating for me, for one thing.  And with my work and entertainment happening on a computer, I really should give my eyes and brain a break now and then.  I am being at least a little stubborn, though.

I did say I’d give the Infernal Machine (my husband laughs every time I call it that) an honest try, though, and I am. Twitter buddies helped by pointing me toward the free books and making some suggestions. I also have a Kindle gift card and remembered that Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orlando is something I’ve been intending to get a copy of.  It is on my Kindle right now, and the first couple of chapters have been every bit as helpful and encouraging as I hoped. I highly suggest that every artist read it, and possibly let some of the people closest to you read it, as well. The ones who are part of your support system, but aren’t artists themselves.

My mother has good reasons for pushing me toward the Kindle. I have good reasons for running away from it. These can all be reconciled and I can learn to enjoy the Infernal Machine. This isn’t just about books, though.

One of the books she gave me on the Kindle is Ur, also by Stephen King, though not the one I asked for and was given. This is an example of something I think really should be read on a device like the Kindle, if not the Kindle itself.  It reminded me of a Halloween article written by Neil Gaiman that has the greatest impact if you read it yourself, rather than having it read to you.

There are times when the delivery system matters very much. It becomes part of the completed piece.

That’s actually part of my problem with the Kindle, Ur being an exception. Books aren’t just stories to me. They’re an experience. I love the covers. I love the paper and ink. I love the binding.  A physical book becomes something of a character itself to me. Is a very old book in pristine condition because it was loved and cared for? Was it treated like an object to be collected rather than a story to be enjoyed? Or was it left alone on a shelf where no one opened it because no one cared? Is the binding on a book broken and it’s cover worn because it was carelessly abused? Or was it a friend, carried everywhere and re-read many times? New paper with fresh ink has a certain scent. Old paper has a scent just as distinct, though it’s a very different scent.

I’ve thought about this sort of thing before. I work with digital tools in creating my art. I’ve written before about depending too much on my eraser and Undo button. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to see Van Gogh’s The Starry Night when it was temporarily on display in my area. It’s my favorite painting, and seeing the actual piece was an amazing experience! It’s quite a bit smaller than I always imagined it being, and there are places where the paint doesn’t completely cover the canvas and sketched lines show through that aren’t noticeable in prints. It’s the same piece, but so different. You haven’t really seen it unless you’ve seen the original. Things that would often be recognized as flaws in the work are part of what makes it so amazing.  What are we losing when we distance ourselves from the physical object?

I’m not going to get rid of my Wacom tablet and buy paints and canvases to work with. It is a question that turns over in my head now and then, though.

I’m not worried that digital books will replace physical copies. Some of the Twitter buddies who have been helping me adjust to my Kindle agree that some books are worth buying as paper and ink. My mother has also said she wouldn’t want to see physical books be replaced, but that something like the Kindle is a useful tool when you just can’t have a physical copy of every book you want to read. I think we could reach a point where physical books become a nostalgic luxury. I’m not sure that people are quite as happy with the speed technology moves at as we often think we are. We cling to the old things. We spend a lot of money to sew clothes in a time when mass production is cheap, whereas sewing clothes used to be something people did because they couldn’t afford clothes from a store. We customize new gadgets to look like clunky, outdated gadgets. Maybe we’re on a quest to prove that “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too” is just another stupid rule that should be broken.

After all, even in the future world of Star Treka book made of paper and ink is a treasured gift.

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6 responses to “Finding a Place in The Future for Paper and Ink

  1. Tim December 27, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    I use the kindle app on my ipad. I’ve quite a few book, probably more than I should.

    The sad thing is, out of the 20 or so books on my reader, I can only point to one that I actually finished! I can’t say that I “would” have finished them if they were paper copies, my personal library has scores of books left half read. But still, out of the 20 or so ebooks I have, I’ve not really read all that much.

    I used to be a voracious reader. But, that was when I was reading things I actually “wanted” to read. Now I read things to help me in my work. During school (bachelors and masters), I had upwards to 1000 pages a night. Since then, I’ve just not read that much.
    I find myself not wanting to purchase ebooks that are fiction, because I don’t feel that I will ever be able to give it away.

    I know, weird right?

    I love finding some kid with a similar reading interest, and unloading a McAffery trilogy onto them! Their eyes light up, and I know they’ll have a months worth of good reading. But, with these ebooks; I’ve not found a good way to legally do it. Sure, I might find a way to make a copy of it; but I don’t know how to transfer the license (which is what we essentially buy) to the other person. Also, there is no guarantee that they will have a reader adaptable to what I’m giving them.

    >:(

    Anyway, I share some of your hesitance about the ereaders. I love technology, and I’m glad to have the gadgets that I have. But, I also enjoy the smell of the page, and the rustling of them as the flip under my thumb.

    Tim

    • K. Martinez December 27, 2011 at 3:53 pm

      I have a paperback copy of “Dragonriders of Pern” that my grandfather gave me. He had a friend who owned a used book shop, and many books on my shelves passed through many hands before they found their home with me. I know exactly what you mean.

  2. marylou459 December 27, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    I HIGHLY recommend you read “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr” (http://www.amazon.com/Shallows-What-Internet-Doing-Brains/dp/0393072223%3FSubscriptionId%3D0MNMC603FA906P2NSD82%26tag%3Dbooktrac-20%26linkCode%3Dxm2%26cam)

    I can loan it to you for Kindle. I’m reading it now. It’s REALLY interesting and JUST the thing you are talking about here.

    • K. Martinez December 27, 2011 at 3:56 pm

      I remember seeing that one somewhere several months back and thinking I’d like to read it. I’ll let you know when I’m ready to borrow it. The collection of books on our Kindle grew quite a bit yesterday and I’m going to have to decide which ones I want to read as fast as I can and which ones I can let sit there for a while. I was happy to find that some of the things it would be a pain for me to order a physical copy of are in the free books section.

  3. Vidyala December 27, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    When Kindles/e-readers first started to become a “thing,” I swore I wouldn’t have one! Printmaking was my major in college, and printmakers are passionate about ink and paper. I’ve been involved in many discussions about paper quality, seen how different papers behave, been intimately involved in the process of putting ink to it – via ink and stone, ink and metal, ink and wood. I learned how to bind pages together to make a book; an archaic, exacting and seductive process that results in (if you’re lucky) something you can turn the pages of! You don’t get that feeling without an actual book, the experience you are describing. The smell of the pages, the feel of the book in your hands, the heft of it. It’s something altogether different.

    But I received the Kindle as a gift, and while I’m still torn, I love it too, for entirely different reasons. I’ve traditionally had trouble with my wrists (back when I was in college and printing lithographs I had to wear a pair of wrist braces; the repetitive motion and the weight of the rollers was very hard on them) and since then they still sometimes act up. Holding the Kindle is a lot easier on them than holding many books, especially the newest hardcover editions that I would always have to read while holding them in my lap. I also got the cover for the Kindle that has a night-light built into the cover – it allows me to read after we’ve turned the lights out so Voss can sleep. I’d tried those book-light devices that you attach to an actual book and they’d never worked for me.

    My Mother-in-Law was pretty impressed when I showed her the Kindle as well. She is an optometrist with many patients who have trouble reading things they like to read (such as the newspaper) because of their vision loss, even with correction. The ability to change the font size to very, very big or to use the “Text to speech” feature on the Kindle seemed to her like something that could be life changing for them!

    This is all basically to say that I share some conflicting feelings about the Kindle, but I’ve come to love it for its own sake, just not entirely as a book replacement. I like the ease of it (I can take it on vacation instead of bringing 5-8 books like I usually do!) but it’s no book.

  4. Gymshoes January 3, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    I have 2 Nooks (1st Edition & Simple Touch), love both and have gone to ebooks for *most* books, but there are certain things that are still best as a physical book. One that tops my “real book” list right now is a book about fonts, for which there’s no e-edition because I don’t think any could handle a variety of wild fonts. (If you’re interested: http://www.amazon.com/Just-My-Type-About-Fonts/dp/1592406521/ref=reg_hu-rd_add_1_dp)

    Kindle navigation can be a bit clunky compared to Nook which has always had touchscreen nav, but once you’ve adjusted to it, it’s then just a matter of adjusting to e-reading. I know more people who have Kindles and, to their dismay, just haven’t been able to get into it, than I do dissatisfied people with other e-readers. I suspect this is because until recently you couldn’t pick up a Kindle and play with it in a store. So people who picked up various other e-readers in stores were able to go back again and again then decide if the whole e-reader thing was something they’d like, while Kindle owners bought into the Star-Trek-like *concept* with little or no hands-on experience of the Kindle until it arrived —not realizing until they got it the disconnect you mention between wanting to live in the cool future but still really preferring the traditional book. I’ve noticed periodic waves of anti-ebook sentiment and I really hope it doesn’t turn into an “us and them” thing. Content is more important than the delivery system (IMHO) —unless the delivery system detracts from the content (which for a lot of people e-readers do). I do agree with you that there is a certain mystique to used books with their obvious signs of wear, odd inscriptions, dog-eared pages, receipts from the other side of the world stuck in as bookmarks, water damage, coffee stains, etc. Some have such a “lived in” and loved look that I wonder what they’re doing in a used bookstore. ;-) You can lend ebooks, but no matter how often you do, they’ll never look well-travelled. ;-)

    I think there’s a place for both ebooks and physical books. I like that “library in my pocket”; it’s handy for someone like me who reads a lot and continually. I think e-books are excellent for non-fiction, especially, because I can bookmark, highlight, annotate, and search text so neatly and well. It’s much easier to find a passage I half-remember months (or years) after I read it! I hope you adjust to your new e-reader and come to love it as much as I love mine. In addition to new books, put your fav books—those you reread—on your wishlist. The first big kick I got out of ebooks was when I realized I could have my fav books with me all the time! :-)

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