Turn The Page

23 10 2011

Writing is a very cathartic experience for me. It allows the inside to be outside, the unheard heard. Those who know me have heard me spin the yarn of how my father steered me clear of a journalism career, and pointed me instead to business. But I never lost my desire. And as my students know all too painfully, this is my voice, one to which they must listen daily.

I also learned very early in my life that to be a good writer, you first had to be a good reader. A quick glance around the Gerlich household bespeaks my voracious appetite for the printed word. To this day I plow through books like a John Deere through West Texas soil. Rows at a time.

But it was in writing yesterday’s blog that I had a surreal experience. I wanted to open with a quote from Jesus of Nazareth. I left my computer desk and ran to my collection of Bibles and other spiritual tomes, and for some reason, selected the New Testament I had purchased when I was a college freshman. Little did I know that simple act would spawn an evening in which I waxed nostalgic, and another blog today.

Because in that well-worn volume I found the words and passages I had highlighted 34 years ago. Words that inspired. Words that comforted. Words that directed. And redirected.

It was at that point I realized how important my books are to me. Through the decades I have dog-eared pages. Highlighted. Scribbled marginalia. Each one of those books represents a page of my own life, a time when I learned something. Pondered a new idea. Reflections of a cognitive growth spurt.

But in recent months I have found myself buying fewer and fewer printed books, and instead downloading them to my iPad. And I admit to having made a lot of noise about my new-found affectation, for I find myself reading faster, reading more books. There’s one nagging thing, though, as a result of yesterday’s epiphany: While I can highlight and comment on e-books just like printed volumes, one sad fact remains. I am not.

Furthermore, as I look on my symbolic e-bookshelf, all I see are thumbnails. No well-worn covers. No gift inscriptions. No receipts I once used as bookmarks. Nothing.

It’s going to be hard to wax nostalgic in 34 more years. Heck, who knows how I will be looking at them anyway. I cannot imagine my original iPad lasting that long.

Which is another way of saying that I am having a little cognitive dissonance over this e-book thing. Yes, I love that I can tote a stack of books and magazines with me in one handy device that only weighs about 1.5 pounds. As long as I don’t exceed my 16GB capacity, I can load more books without additional weight.

Books have been the last media form to make the switch to digital. Music and movies are one thing, as are photos (which can still be printed, if we must have the tactile experience). But books are different. All I have to do is listen to a song to begin melting; all I have to do is watch the original Airplane! and howl like I did over 30 years ago. I can peruse my SmugMug photo albums all day and night, and have the embers of fires long burned out stirred to life once more.

Yes, books are different. And so powerful that we have crafted more than a few metaphors attesting to their relevance.

So what to do, I ask? I worry about my kids, who in 34 years may not be able to turn to dusty volumes to find not only words, but also a history of themselves. But I do not want to stand in the way of progress. Never. A guy who created a course in Evolutionary Marketing cannot turn back. It’s too late. I already drank that Kool-Aid. And it was good.

It may well be possible that we are the last generations living who will be able to experience books the way I did last night. Maybe I need to just let go of it. I know they say you can’t take it with you when you die, but maybe, if the rules on eternity could be relaxed one iota, we could take one thing. And for me that one thing would be the iPad 23. The one with the 100 TB of memory. Because then I could take all my pics, tunes, movies and books with me.

And if there is wifi in the afterlife, I’ll be able to download new stuff as it comes along.

Kind of like I did this morning when I ordered Steve Jobs’ new autobiography from Amazon. It won’t be released until tomorrow, but it will be on my iPad before I wake up. Somewhere, Steve is smiling. But I wonder if I will be in 34 years when I look back on it.

Dr “The Chapter Hasn’t Ended Yet” Gerlich


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