February 21st, 2011 / 6:30 pm
Blind Items & Random & Technology

This again, not this again

I wasn’t going to write this, feeling like the last thing anybody needs is another post explaining or defending or extolling paper, but then two events became bridged in my mind and I felt like I would be restless until I wrote them, about that bridge, so there you have a little apologia for what follows, which is that I moved some months ago to a new house, and recently found myself sitting on the floor late at night amidst boxes filled with folders and smaller boxes, and several folders were marked MISC and contained all kinds of paper, critical essays that I wrote during college and grad school about Emily Dickinson and Auden and post-structuralism and William Blake, and pages from the first novel I wrote, and pages from the first “novel” I wrote, and notebooks filled with other writings, and long letters never sent, and then I opened a box within a box and it was filled with floppy discs, each one labeled with the year and some vague tags, like “teaching stuff” and “post-mod essays” and “stories/summer” and “Needle,” and I just held those floppies like they were quaint artifacts from my Victorian childhood, realizing that I had no means of accessing their contents, and then stacking them neatly back into their smaller and then larger box, and returning to the piles of paper feeling a kind of profound agitation with regard to permanence or the myth of permanence, and remembering standing outside of the office where I worked just a couple blocks from the World Trade Center on September 11, after the first and then the second plane hit, and trying to move through the desperate crowds toward the subway, trying just to move because there was nothing else to do, and realizing what felt like very gradually that the squares fluttering from the sky were not weather or flesh or plastic, but paper, pieces of ordinary paper, swirling and landing so peaceably, with such quietude, such impossibly out-of-place quietude, quietude amounting almost to heresy, recalling as they landed other paper falling from the sky some months prior, the result of some sports-related ticker-tape parade, which I’d watched from the window of the same office, the two instances of paper and place trying to cancel one another out as I throbbed my way to the subway engulfed by complete confusion about parades and explosions and death and paper and later/still being unable to subdue the memory of that eerie swirling paper that landed at my feet, and now feeling, recently, as I thumbed through my piles of old and frequently embarrassing pages, that they could outlive me in a different way than my floppies could, that a piece of paper that fell from the sky could feasibly have a word on it that could be read by whomever it landed on but a piece of a disc would just be a piece of a disc, unreadable and unknowable, and then feeling a terrible melancholy and fondness toward the “physical page,” a phrase I hate, and realizing that it doesn’t matter how you read but maybe it does matter how you keep, if you do in fact keep, which I do, despite the fact that my life often feels like a constant casting off, and we don’t all have to agree, and there is no monolith, but I get it, I get why we want to see our words in print, and I am precariously assuaged of a thing I didn’t know was hurting me by this roughly hewn genealogy of paper, perpetuity, and death.

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  1. Vhhg


  2. Sam Cooney

      Now this is a worthy debate. ‘Keeping’ versus ‘reading’. Paper memory versus disk memory. Touching/tangible versus not. Environmental considerations? Egads.

  3. tomk

      really beautiful post.

  4. Aewrwe


  5. Sabrina Orah Mark


  6. Frank Tas

      Out of college I was looking for a job to save some petty cash while sleeping on my friends’ couches in Boston. My only source of computer was the university’s library; an old classmate who hadn’t graduated yet offered me her username, password, and print quota.

      One day while job hunting I stumbled on a Panera Bread, the restaurant I worked in during my high school years. The place had just opened up, I had three years of experience there, I thought it was meant to be.

      When I went in to ask about work they sounded very interested, a couple of managers came out and nodded their heads, but once we finished talking, they told me to go home and apply online. As in, “You need a computer if you expect to make people sandwiches, or bus tables, or wash dishes.” This concept infuriated me and I refused to offer my Panera bread services out of spite.

      When I first heard people talking about Kindles and the new wave of ebooks and all that shit, I was excited because it meant some sort of hip progress, I guess, like skinny non-ethnically-descript graphic designer shitheads on the L train reading their fucking Adrian Tomine en route to their fucking Adrian Tomine conglomeration workplace that has a Marvel vs. Capcom console in the lunchroom or something. But now I think about it, and it means you need a computer to read a book, which means people who don’t have a computer can’t read, they need to toss down a couple hundred bucks and plug something in somewhere to read something.

      This sort of makes me feel better about the way that stuff makes me think, so much thanks from here.

  7. Kristen Iskandrian

      thanks for reading, and for your thoughtful response.

  8. letters journal
  9. jackie wang

      touchability. i have more encounters with old paper than i do with old files.

  10. Frank Tas

      Yeah! I don’t understand why this isn’t being talked about more often. The Kindle I think is just gonna give people an excuse not to read. I’d rather have a book of mine published Dover Thrift-style and make no money on it and have it affordable and accessible to everyone than have it cash in on “progress.”

  11. Anonymous


  12. Gfyf


  13. Another Sean

      I loved this post. Not only do you have something very important to say, but you said it beautifully.
      I’ve thought about this a time or two, myself. I have all those floppies at home too, sitting in the same sorts of little boxes stacked within bigger boxes, which I can no longer use. I have a synthesizer which also uses a floppy to load its operating system and store different sounds once created. Recently the drive stopped working and they no longer make replacements. All those sounds that have been created by the previous owner as well as the ones I’ve created are now dead I guess. Progress killed the music. I have a zip drive too, which I can’t seem to get to work with my Mac, so everything on that newer sort of disc platform is dead. A couple of weeks ago we brought home a new iPod touch, plugged it into the Mac and it won’t work. It needs a newer version of iTunes which cannot run on the version of OSX I have – and since my computer is 5 years old I can’t get the newer operating system – Apple has left me behind. I guess the iPod is going back. The funny thing is I can still read the manual that came with the synthesizer, the zip drive, the Mac, even the slips of paper that came with the iPod.
      I’m printing everything I have on hard drives and USB drives as soon as I get home. I am also seriously now thinking about the socioeconomic disparity between books and technology. There is definitely a divide between ‘the have’s’ and ‘the have not’s’. Technology, in this instance, does not seem to be tearing down these walls, but raising them a few courses higher.