Writing by hand on paper is becoming a revolutionary act. Reading a physical book is becoming a revolutionary act. Protecting the books in our libraries, the arts and humanities in our colleges and universities is becoming a revolutionary act. Doing things with warm hand to warm hand, face to face, without photographing them, posting them, is becoming a revolutionary act.
Those two original digital devices you have at the end of your forearms are the means of resistance. As is eye-contact with the world instead of staring at your phone.
She begins her post with screenshots from someone’s downloaded Facebook archive, which showed that Facebook had extensive records of phone calls and other communications that were unrelated to Facebook.
The most valuable thing you have is your attention. It’s also the most valuable condition for survival of the non-digital world.
Pictured is the haul ($8 total) from a recent afternoon browsing used bookstores, which I do once in a while, when my time is open and therefore my self-discipline is weak. But I didn’t feel bad about getting more Stuff this time, because I’m coming to something approaching terms with it.
I love books, movies, and music, but developing an extensive catalog has never been a priority. Working at a library is a factor. With easy, daily access to a plethora of titles, expanding our humble collection of books, DVDs, vinyls, and CDs seems unnecessary. Since I tend not to reread books, amassing more out of fun or bibliophilia isn’t an issue; only the most meaningful or heirloom-worthy books have secured space on our limited shelves. Ditto our LPs and CDs, which are now mostly survivors from several moves and curatorial weedings. For me, less stuff has been better. My friend jokes about being able to move me and all my stuff from college to grad school in one trip in his Geo Prizm.
That’s changed recently. I’ve rediscovered the desire to own analog media, if only as a supplemental collection to my mostly-digitized life. Also: for their tangible or aesthetic appeal, to preserve tangibility, to not be constantly tracked and advertised to, to escape the mercurial whims of licensing and arcane digital services, or to have something to do when the internet goes down.
In a way I haven’t even needed to rediscover it: the majority of my movie watching has always come from DVDs or the theater, and I’ll always prefer print over ebooks. We still have Amazon Prime for movies and Google Play for music, and they are often handy. But I need to remind myself once in a while that newer/easier/faster doesn’t always equal better.
I’m not concerned I’ll suddenly become a hoarder. In fact I’m starting to become concerned we’re not keeping enough things around we’ll regret not having later on, either as historical curios or as cultural artifacts that boomerang from modish to obsolete and back. I can’t tell you how many times, when I bring up my interest in typewriters, I’ve heard something like, Oh yeah, I had one from college, but… or My parents had one but didn’t use it anymore, so… It makes me cringe to ponder the fate of those machines. Whether it’s vinyls, typewriters, love letters, Polaroids, or anything else that doesn’t live in an app or social network, the things we think no longer matter in our lives might in time prove us wrong. And what with the internet ushering in a new Dark Ages, methinks we all should get a little more discerning on what we keep, what we don’t, and why.
What started with a web search for Wendell Berry’s mailing address led me to this article by Sandra McCracken about her pilgrimage to visit the Sage of Port Royal—thus combining two of my favorite artists into one webpage. A passage from McCracken’s reflections stood out:
One of my favorite moments was when Wendell said that he is a member of two organizations: 1) The Slow Communication Movement and 2) The Preservation of Tangibility. He noted that anyone can join these and added with a grin, “Actually, I think I founded them.”
I think about tangibility a lot. How the images we look at on a computer screen or smartphone don’t exist, not really, and how if a megavirus wiped out the internet and everything on our computers a huge percentage of our lives—probably too big—would cease to exist. Kinda makes me want to take up woodworking or something.
I’m not so silly to suggest life would be better without intangible technologies. I’m grateful to live in a time when I can choose tangible things like writing by hand or strumming the guitar or dropping the needle on a vinyl as a means of escape—rather than these things simply being the default mode of interacting with the world.
But damned if I wouldn’t take more of those things over staring at the same rectangle of pixels all day, every day, forever.