by Nancy Ford
A lovely tree grows right outside my home. Her strong trunk splits in two precisely at second-story balcony eye level, her smooth bark rippling at the cleft, creating a Georgia O’Keefe-esque visual. I call her Yoni.
I love my Yoni. A beautiful post oak, she has withstood blight, wind, and generations of vermin. She provides shade from the warmth of summer, and protection from the coldth of winter.
I’m no tree-hugger in the traditional, sappy sense. But it sickens me to think that one day, as progress rolls on and new developments develop, Yoni will likely be chopped down, her sturdy limbs ground up and pressed into fuel, IKEA furniture, or maybe even a book.
You’d think, given my arboreal affinity, that I would applaud humankind’s shift to a paperless, digital universe. But I’m resistant. I e-mail and text. I have voicemail. Isn’t that enough?
Now we’re expected to Tweet, Facebook, and Foursquare (which, as it turns out, is now more than a schoolyard recess game).
We watch movies on our iPhones. We write letters on our iBooks. We read books on our iPads. Is the eventual goal to reduce all media, like books, photos, and similar treasures, down to a portfolio portable enough to fit into a coffin?
Letters—the old-fashioned kind that we could previously hold in our hands and fold and put away and take back out and unfold and enjoy—have already become a thing of the past. And that’s a shame. Remember that posthumous, pre-Twitter discovery of letters exchanged between Eleanor Roosevelt and AP reporter Lorena Hickok, revealing a relationship between the First Lady and the ’30s-era White House correspondent that apparently went way beyond friendship?
“I can’t kiss you so I kiss your picture good night and good morning,” Mrs. Roosevelt wrote to her clandestine paramour. “Most clearly I remember your eyes, with a kind of teasing smile in them, and the feeling of that soft spot just northeast of the corner of your mouth against my lips.”
If the two had been born a few decades later, their exchange might look more like: “@MRSFDR to @APBFF: miss u!!! xxx.”
As much as we stand to gain, thanks to the advent of all this mega-bytten Kindle convenience, we also stand to lose a lot. I still savor the experience of finding a well-worn copy of Les Misérables for sale in a one-room, hewn-stone library during my summer in Ogunquit. I’ve carried that book with me from Maine back to Ohio, on to Texas, and through the Nomadic apartment hopping of my 20s and 30s. All these years later, I still haven’t read Hugo’s masterpiece, but that’s beside the point.
The point is the moment that merely holding the book in my hands still invokes. Flipping through its yellowing pages, I can smell that musty Maine library. I can taste the salty air of that resort town where I spent my 17th summer when I was so naïve that I didn’t realize that, despite its proliferation of same-sex-partnered innkeepers, Ogunquit was already a gay Mecca.
Can’t capture a memory like that with a download.
My first record album, bought with my own money, was a Judy Collins album. It represents the tactile beginning of a lifelong awe of her music and life’s work that culminated in meeting my idol, when she autographed the album’s accompanying songbook.
Can’t autograph an iTune.
And how are we supposed to impress guests in our homes if we don’t display erudite magazines and books on our coffee tables? Are we supposed to rely on our personal wit, charm, and intellect? That’s a lot of work.
As much as the avalanche of all this technology may be saving our trees, it may also be hurting our economy. What will eventually happen when moving companies no longer have cumbersome boxes of books to move? How will cash-strapped, young lesbians with pick-up trucks finance pizza and beer on the weekends when there’s no need for them to assist older lesbians with their heavy lifting?
And then there’s the damage done to our relationships. Say you’re having a spat with your partner. It’s way too convenient to pack up all of your belongings and storm out of the house when you no longer have the cooling-down period previously occupied by the boxing-up of letters, books, record albums, and the like. Now all you have to do is unplug your cell phone chargers and flee.
Economics and aesthetics aside, consider the practical, physical side of the matter. It’s nature’s cruel joke that, as we age, the use of our fingers begins to wane. There are so many, more important things I need my fingers for besides tweeting.
Maybe it’s the terminology, not the technology, that I resist. Does her number of Facebook friends really, truly represent the number of friends a woman has? Those aren’t so much friends as they are digital impulses collected by a series of tubes—right, Sen. Ted Stevens? Next time you have a flat tire in the middle of the night, send out a mass plea for help to those you have “friended” and see who comes running to the rescue with a spare donut, with or without the powdered sugar.
On the other hand, I recognize that these social networking and tree-saving devices enable us to reach audiences
we previously might not have had access to. That tool might come in handy for, say, a comedy writer whose column turns 25 next year, if she decides to commemorate the anniversary by finally publishing a book.
I think I just heard my Yoni breathe a sigh of relief.