As chief of the neo-luddites I avoid offering my opinion on any form of technology above the pipe-knife, for much the same reason George W. Bush should never teach grammar: don’t know how it works and will mangle it if I try. On the other hand, there occasionally comes to my attention a product that raises a flicker of interest; I recently purchased an MP3 player following the demise of my trusty CD player (although vinyl remains the thinking man’s format of choice). As with all technology I turned it over at once to Bobbu who shall return it de-techified and with a list of simple “push this button” instructions. I give it six weeks maximum.
In addition to my inability to work any device above (and mostly including) the television remote, I earn the historical meaning of my neo-luddite title via my genuine objection to the insidious manner in which the technology has entered everyday existence. I write this blog with a pen & paper, however my chances of publishing it in print form are non-existent; print magazines being as rare as rocking horse shit. When I wish to speak with someone at length I write them a letter and post it. I shall explain these strange terms to anyone under twenty or so: “Writing a letter” involves making marks on paper with a pen (you can still buy these in train station shops occasionally under the magazines), when you’ve expressed yourself fully you enclose the “letter” in a paper sleeve known as an “envelope” then affix a stamp and put it in a red pillar box, assuming you can find one. I continue to write letters not only from bloody-mindedness but because people take genuine pleasure in receiving them. However, I am even more likely to text, email or “facebook” someone than to write to them. Sneaky bastard this technology; and no-one responds to my letters anyway.
The irony of a man using an internet blog to decry the evils of technology doesn’t escape me, however where I to send out letters announcing precisely the same evils two things would occur (a) people would forget my words immediately and (b) no-one would reply – if the odd few did they would do so by email. The all-pervasive nature of technology may be illustrated by the fact that a confirmed neo-luddite such as myself has a blog, two email addresses, Facebook, Myspace, and MP3 player and a mobile phone with internet access. Soon I shall be selling vinyl and books, not in a smoke-filled shop but online – having working in a handful of such places I know only too well where profit lies. Technology has entered my life to an unfortunate extent (although only in the third person as my online life is run almost entirely by others [“indeed…” sayeth Bobbu]), but – returning to the point of this blog – it has finally gone too far. The last fortress is in danger of being breached by the vile loaf of Satan known as the e-reader.
Upon first viewing of this product I was interested, which for me is akin to raging curiosity with knobs on – I could reclaim entire corners of my living space. Hundreds of volumes stored in the space of my jacket pocket, unlimited titles available… how pointless. I don’t want my space back and should I come across more space I’ll fill it with books. Unlimited titles are already available, more than anyone could read in a dozen lifetimes – in second hand bookshops and fairs. Time and space may be saved, but the pleasure of browsing (one of life’s truly great pleasures) will be lost along with volumes from the past which “fail to live up to the market expectation” or “are no longer relevant to our demographic.” If one takes away the piles of books and vinyl records my room contains… a bed (with books n it), even when they become old, dusty or torn books are NEVER obsolete.
As an example I’ll pick a book at random, Oscar Wilde’s ‘De Profundis’, first published in 1897 and which continues to arouse passion and indignation towards injustice over a century later. How many tech toys or programmes will last two years, much less a hundred and thirteen? The works of Plato, Confucius, Cicero, Shakespeare, Goethe, et al inspire human beings through centuries and I can’t help but wonder if reducing their words to downloadable files will result in their being forgotten. After all, almost no-one plays computer games on a Sega Megadrive any more, no-one reads blog articles from a few years ago; technology encourages “expandable entertainment” – a constant rush towards the next thing at the expense of the last. I look forward to new works of literature as much as a techie looks forward to a new iphone or some other such thing, but I don’t abandon books already in my library and can return to them after a lapse of many years to find new enjoyment. I can take equal pleasure in books written in 2008AD and 200BC; technology simply does not improve with age. No techie would consider reverting, or even keeping, something from as little as five years ago – it would be an unimaginable tragedy if books (words), the total sum of human thought, passion and experience were seen as equally disposable.
I shall not, therefore, be purchasing an e-reader, instead I shall spend the hard-earned money that the tax-payer gives me once a fortnight searching fairs, second-hand bookshops and (when absolutely necessary) eBay for old, used, but in no way used up books which shall continue to fill every available space in every home I inhabit. Should a clear-out become necessary I shall pass them on to others, safe in the knowledge that they will NEVER EVER become broken, run out of power or be obsolete.