Monday, September 1, 2014

Something Refreshing in the Digital Age, an Introduction

It's no secret that I prefer pen and paper to the screen and keyboard. I carry my 7.5 x 9.75 inch composition notebook with me everywhere. I've always got pens. I would say that it's retro, but the truth is, I've been doing this for 20 years. The thrill of opening a new notebook is only second to the closing of its filled predecessor. I guess it's like this: in all the years I've been writing, I have always enjoyed the tangible signs on my labor. Filled notebooks and empty pens. Aside from this, the pen and notebook, may not be 100% sustainable since I am dependent on paper pulpers and ink manufacturers, but it is pretty low impact. Plus, should the lights go out, the composition notebook and pens do not run on electricity, batteries or gasoline. It's just me under a tree with my thoughts, pen in hand and notebook.

It sounds all so romantic.

When you're a young writer, those who are older and seemingly wiser than you say pretty predictable things like find your own voice and stick to it or write what you know. I say this: find a system that works for you and stick to it.

I was in Antioch, California over spring break 1996 visiting my grandparents. I was a student at Metropolitan State in Denver at that time. I had just made the decision to change my major from Biology (I had wanted to be a botanist) to English. I graduated 3 semesters later, so clearly it was the right choice. On the trip to Antioch, California in March of 1996, my system of writing began. And as I look back on it, I already had several systems in place and I didn't know it. For the record, in 1996 I had a laptop, and an email account. Music came on CDs, cellphones were not cheaply available and photography involved cameras and film.

I walked from my grandparents' apartment house on Fairview Drive to the drugstore on Buchanan. I walked. If given the choice today, I would still rather walk—which is another story for another time.

I went to the drugstore to buy either 35mm film or stamps. The systems already in place were those—I took lots of pictures and I wrote tons of letters. And at the drugstore I bought my first 7.5 x 9.75 inch composition notebook. That was a long time ago, as anyone who has helped me move and had gotten to the boxes of notebooks first will tell you.

But it was long ago for many reasons.

Email has replaced letters. Facebook has replaced email. Text have replaced phone calls and phones have replaced cameras.

Don't worry, I will not bore you with ramblings of an old man, I will not say that it was a happier time way back when. But I will say that the analog days seemed so much more relaxing, less crowded, more intimate and more private.

It's a thought I have from time to time, but much more often now: now that we are more connected and everything being so instant, have we lost something like permanence? Has the importance of the product surpassed the process and are we any better off?

Back in January, I got so fucking fed up with my “smart phone.” We were getting ready to start filming “To Better Days” and here I was with this fancy phone that could do anything except make a fucking phone call. People were calling and I could not hear, or they could not hear—how frustrating. In exasperation, I replaced my new smart phone with a brand-new-out-of-the-box flip phone. This thing can only make phone calls. I cannot browse the internet, scan for more info, connect with Facebook, or watch videos. When I have to make a call, or heaven forbid, receive a call, this lovely little thing works wonderfully. I get endless grief for it when people see it. I explain how I don't want the damn thing and would probably prefer a land line piped into the house so I never have to think about it again. Tense laughs come after the tirade. People think I'm crazy. Maybe I am.

The whole flip phone got me to thinking. How much of my time is spent plugged in? I know it's got to be less than others I know and others I see who are always slack jawed and thumbed into a device. The more I thought about it the more self-conscious I became every time I found myself staring at a screen. Here's what I got: cellphone, 2 digital cameras, a Kindle, a laptop, four email accounts, a blog, an online magazine with submission manager, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and that does not included the smaller services and routine browsing that I do. I started to feel like Quasimodo hunching over all of these things. I am nothing special. I am not alone. Have you ever noticed when you look at something to buy on the internet that ads for that product appear on your Facebook and email screens? It just seems that when you start, it just doesn't seem to end. Ah. The digital age. Perhaps George Orwell's “Telescreen” has been manifested into Google?

Next Time: A few realizations.

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