So, for Christmas I get one of those spiffy new E-readers. The gift box just materialized under the small Douglas fir that is this year’s Christmas tree, left there by some Secret Santa.
Several days later, no one has claimed responsibility for the gift though I have a short list suspects.
My new prize was wrapped in a small book-sized (ironic, hunh?) box, cleverly enveloped in gun-metal red gift foil and tied with a wide green felt ribbon complete—and I swear this is true– a bough of holly. It also bore a tag inscribed
From: “You’ll Never Guess.”
Selling content – downloading ‘stuff’ over the Internet is the publishing industry’s new, seamless and gluten free means of retail product delivery. It is a paperless scheme and may even, the product brochure tells me, save the Amazon rain forest, though I think it will more likely save Amazon.com (especially when you consider the product brochure itself was printed on paper.)
I have smugly nicknamed my particular e-reader ‘The Look’. (Why the manufacturer didn’t trademark this e-name ‘The Look’, I’ll never know since it is the main requirement one must do meet in order to operate the damn thing.)
Several models (as well as their inevitable Chinese counterfeit) of the half-page sized electronic gizmos currently flood the Western free market. One can hardly turn on the television without one version or the other making a commercial appearance. The gadget electronically boasts its ability to store thousands upon thousands of books, magazines, music albums and other what-not (i.e. electronic vouchers for tie-dyed T-shirts and whatever else junk happens to be on the bookseller’s clearance table.) Lugging around the twenty pound, paper version of War and Peace becomes a thing of the past, the product leaflet tells me.
In addition to electronically holding a metric ton of books, the brochure brags I’ll now be able to read… er, ‘e-read’ in direct sunlight, as well as in the wee small hours of the morning in the backyard in subfreezing weather if I so chose. ‘The Look’ is also waterproof. I can now read underwater assuming I can also figure out how to avoid imminent electrocution while doing so.
The rain forest saving device’s product packaging assures me I am now the proud owner of the new wunderkind device that “…changes the whole paradigm of reading.” I must confess that my first reading of the words ‘paradigm shift’ caused me to have some vague notion of their actual meaning. However, given my early experience with the Look, I have come to infer the term paradigm shift infers the idea of ‘new hand held convenience. In reality the term ‘paradigm shift’ may really be a threat. It also means taking something heretofore ‘simple’ and easy in concept and screwing the damn thing up. In this case it also means establishing and maintaining an e-reader account, maintaining e-files, archiving e-files already e-read, merging new e-files, charging e-batteries, re-charging old e-batteries, appropriating (read: sometimes stealing) new e-batteries, and keeping up with the exact whereabouts of the e-reader at all times (i.e. looking for ‘the Look’, as it were. You may recall how hopeless I am at retaining the long term possession of anything. See The Art of Loss and Cell Phones.)
Of all of the maneuvers necessary to be a part of this new paradigm shift, the most terrifying is downloading. I have an innate penchant for disaster when it comes to computers and the Internet. I have no aptitude for it and operating any thing more technical than a shovel or a glass of water. I hardly know the differences between 3D and 3G or even stir-fry versus Wi – Fi though I am pretty sure the later should be termed ‘Why – Fi’ given that the process is about as spotty and as reliable as the performance of junk bonds – at least whenever Cantrell makes an attempt to do so.
The last time I successfully downloaded anything from the Internet was in late 2003. I remember the occasion vividly. While surfing the Internet and looking for a recipe for kumquat preserves or some such, one of those pop up holograms appeared from nowhere: “CONGRATULATIONS, YOU ARE OUR ONE MILLIONTH VISITOR THIS HOUR. VISIT THIS LINK TO COLLECT YOUR PRIZE” and with no interaction from me, my computer was re-routed to Viruses-Be-Us.com. I’d managed to stumble upon the dreaded, world-wide kumquat worm virus thought to emanate Eastern European hackers.
Suddenly, leaching from my computer’s innards was the foulest smelling ooze which proceeded to engulf and destroy the laptop’s screen, hard drive and keyboard as well as a bottle of BS Energy Drink that I had been enjoying. Wiped out as a result of the attack were all of my computer files, my high school permanent record and the cable TV reception of both next door neighbors. Looking back on it, I still have to give those Eastern Europeans credit (and this was before the current European Debt Crisis): they certainly had imagination when it came to shock, awe and destruction. Ever since, downloading anything from anywhere on to anything has been a dicey proposition fraught with wonder and suspense but mostly terror.
The new e-reading paradigm also requires new thinking on the matter of poorly written books. A few weeks ago, prior to my Christmas gift, I threw the new bestseller by one of those other – (read: higher-priced) authors into the fireplace. The fellow was one of America’s most beloved storytellers but his latest 900 page slog just missed the mark. Just missed! It happens to all of us from time to time, in every endeavor. Nonetheless, it gave me particular pleasure to throw the tome into the fireplace in the middle of page 112. ‘E-rasure’ or ‘E-rasing’ accomplishes the same thing but it ‘ain’t’ nearly as satisfying as tossing badly written pages into a rip roaring fire, rain forest be damned.
The new paradigm also takes away my excuse to actually visit the brick and mortar booksellers around the corner. It is a favorite haunt and though I enjoy browsing through the New Arrivals Section or the Biography Sector, I also confess I like the prospect of possibly running into Nola, one of the women staffers. In addition to being relentlessly beautiful, she is also a great salesman and just last month sold me $2,583.00 worth of Dr. Seuss books though I have no children, grandchildren, or even god children under the age of 40. That sex and sultriness still sells (even if it is a tad bookish) is one paradigm that has not shifted.
Mind you, I am not complaining about this change in the way business of reading is now done, though on the surface it may seem so. Far be it from me to stand in the way of progress and ever shifting paradigms, though one should note ‘shift’ can very easily become ‘shaft’ in our society. However, I do wonder, given the complete list of mandates attendant to e-readership, how the rest of us have collectively managed to let the ruling class screw up such a simple ‘just reading.’ Can e-shoes, e-food, and e-sex be that far behind?
Of course, there still remains the matter of identifying my Secret Santa.
At one time, I’d have figured it to be Virginia Cantrell, My now long dead mother was the single parent head of household but also the head prankster the whole time I was growing up. For a number of years she had the infuriating habit of giving me at least one educational toy every Christmas, whether I asked for it or not. The ‘gift of knowledge’, she called it. It was a sneaky way that many grown-ups of the day had of making innocent, unsuspecting kids to learn new junk even though school night not be in session. “It’ll challenge your mind. One day you’ll thank me,” she’d say.” There’s a lot of knowledge in a metric ton of books and it would definitely be her way of making me learn stuff… even as I approach my dotage. (“You’re never too old to learn, you know”, I can hear her say now.)
Secret Santa could also be my long-time friend, Booger Wadsworth wanting –-waiting, really!– to see what kind of carnage I can reek by attempting to download that a ton of books. Wadsworth knows I love to read but also knows it will take me 200 years to read thousands and thousands of books. The rascal likely wants to see if I’m up to it. It’d be his way of elegantly and subtly taunting me—telling me I am getting long in the tooth and that I have absolutely no chance of living long enough to read that many books. If it is Booger, I vow –just for spite—to live just long, read all those damn books. And have the last word.
Lastly, there is the chance Ol’ You’ll Never Guess is a well-meaning person meaning, well…to help out an avid reader. If you’re reading this, ‘Never Guess’, “Thanks Much for the e-reader.”. And note that I can ‘man up’ to any old paradigm shift you send my way. (Hell, I’m really no worse for wear after the paradigm shift of bringing my own bags and bagging my own groceries) When it comes to gift giving, it is the thought that counts, I’m told — though I’d just as just as soon your thought had been of those nifty new Callaway graphite golf irons I’ve been lusting after for awhile now.
Nevertheless, Thank You. Again.
© Copyright 2011 Will Cantrell
 If you are new to these parts, Meriwether P. (Booger) Wadsworth makes occasional appearances here. He remains and has been my erstwhile best friend and blood brother since three o’clock of the third day of the third week of the third month of third grade. (Quite possibly this had also been Booger’s third year in the third grade, although one of the unwritten rules of ‘best friendship’ and ‘blood brotherhood’ is not to discuss certain matters. The Las Vegas Agreement, we call it —-i.e. “whatever happens in the third grade stays in the third grade” as it were—even if the third grade ‘happened’ three times for one of the principals to the agreement.)