Ancestral Artifact: Books

think I might have figured out why I’m so afraid of computers. After reflecting on the media artifacts that help to shape me and my literacy, an image from an old film, The Time Machine, came to mind. The Time Traveler asks a very dumb, but attractive, member from some future, seemingly utopian society to show him their “books.” The Time Traveler enthusiastically enters their dusty library with the highest expectations of history, knowledge, and enlightenment. Instead he discovers that the books crumble in his hands. The Time Traveler is disgusted; dismayed that these inhabitants of the future in exchange for dancing, swimming, and playing “have let it crumble to dust!”
Mom could never figure out what was wrong with me because I always wanted something more, something different. I think she figured it was because I had a complex about being the middle less-desired child with an absent, junkie father. I’m thinking it’s because I was extraordinarily precocious for the family. My brother crumbled under the stress of being the misbehaved (no kidding, he’s kinda a nihilist), parentified child, while my sister mindlessly indulged in our mother’s doting. Unlike me, those two have no time for deep-reading, deep-thinking, or serious contemplation. For my brother with his smarts and his absence of conscience, could destroy the planet. And my sister is content in her obliviousness, consciously she disdains frivolities such as poetry and philosophy. The first time my mother noticed me reading (I think it was some VC Andrews novel; no need to feel bad about my own family while reading her stuff), she said: “you’re gonna be just like your Grandma Carol. She reads all the time and she knows everything.” My grandma, in fact, knows quite a bit. Not everything, but everything that I ever needed to know. Though she didn’t know it because if she had she probably wouldn’t have done it, my mom encouraged me to read and read and read by saying this. As a coping strategy to stave future disappointment and crushed dreams, my family had low expectations for its young. Despite the overall lack of encouragement, I found my place in the world in books.
I know it sounds cliche, but books at first allowed me a for-sure escape from my less-than-ideal home life. Or like in the case of the VC Andrews, Stephen King, and Dean Koontz, I could always read about folks in books that had it much worse. After I learned to read (I had a slow start, I didn’t learn until my second time in first grade), I wouldn’t stop. I was avid. I read whatever I could scrounge up–we didn’t have any books in our house, except an obsolete medical reference book and the bible sometimes–pamphlets from the doctor’s office, newspapers, bath and cleaning products, “Weekly Readers” from school, Grandma’s “Reader’s Digests” and “True Story.” But I savored books. Sometimes I would just read them right there on the floor in the library between two shelves of books, dimly-lit, quiet and comfortable. Sometimes I would just steal them, books. Once in my favorite book reading position, in the library quiet and comfortable, while attending junior college I stumbled upon the real reason why books are my medium of choice–connection. There in the wormholes, not really I’ve never actually seen a wormhole (books piled in an overpacked library forming tunnels for book worms) I connected with a fellow English-major, quiet and comfortable. Granted, some would argue that being a book worm is actually socially alienating, but I firmly disagree. I’d just say maybe those critics should just read more.
Not only through books can I connect, deeply and intimately, with other book lovers but with the ideas, history, knowledge, wisdom with all humans and human ages in the world. The intertexuality of books allows me to connect not only with the book I’m reading but with a innumerable other books, ideas, histories, knowledge, and symbols. During my study as an English major I learned to delve deeper into my understanding of books and our relationship. As a teacher, I’m now able to express and share the connective power of books’ universal, human themes. In college, ecstatic by actually being allowed to buy and own my own books, I discovered annotation and textual analysis. Through annotation, I could write in my books, love the pages, interact and connect with the text on the pages of these books. My professors were pleased when this love for literature came out in my own writing. My expression of love for and connection with books was scrawled out in all my underlining, asterisks, and other annotating idiosyncrasies. This way the books (and their intertexuality) and I are irrevocably connected; the oh so many literary analysis essays I completed as an undergrad are the evidence of our conjoining.
During reflection the PC, or personal computer emerges as another almost equally important media artifact. It can be compared, or contrasted, to books through its textual, intertextual, and hypertextual quality. Reading text is vitally important to literacy in cyberspace, yet it involves a whole visual element. Furthermore, the potential to interact (with video, sound, animation) with the text online, just makes annotation seem, quite frankly, like an ancestral artifact. The endless, never-impossible connections with everyone around the world offers even more potential for reward through immediate feedback from perhaps an alive person, not just the author’s dead whisper of a voice. Furthermore the hypertext in internet text, offers the same potential for intertextuality and plurality of perspectives that a book does. Given all the similarities between books and the computer, it is no wonder that the computer is a close runner-up as the media artifact most important to my life. With that said, why is the damn thing (computer, pc) so damn alienating? Is it possible with the PC that the individual be simultaneously interconnected and alienated?
When I first heard the potential that computers had to rule the world (maybe, at that time, 2000 or so, they already were; I just didn’t know it) and some rumors about the Y2K, I remember making my husband promise that “we’ll never be wired up.” This negative attitude from the get, pretty much solidified my need-hate relationship with computers. At the time, I was trying to avoid the impending moral, social, and cultural degradation or Armageddon that the PC had to offer. Think the Matrix; that movie had just started getting popular. Now, probably my irrational fear was the result of sensing the changes that the PC would bring to my life. Overall and so far, the changes have been promising and positive. I can write and type pretty quickly. I met up with some friends from around the way on Facebook. Figuring and submitting grades is a blessing online. I pay most of my bills and do my banking online. Back in college, I quickly got tired of computer labs and print cards. Financial aid allowed me to finally buy my very own personal computer with dial-up. In Winton, at that time there was no high speed. Now, I’m addicted to high-speed internet and wireless and I’m pretty much all wired-up–hopefully, not in the Matrix way. Fear and apprehension aside, I had things to do, goals to accomplish, all those undergrad literary analysis papers to write. At the university, I was able to get my own lap top, so that I could be mobile and move closer to my comfort zone while writing, the library and books. That fat, heavy, floppy-disk-accepting (I had to have floppy on my lap-top because it offered flexibility and my new digital camera needed it) PC/laptop nearly killed me. It was too heavy; I think I still have nerve damage because my back and chest always still hurts. When our family finally went from PC to Mac, technology became so much easier, but the transition wasn’t without event. Within thirty seconds of us bringing our beautiful, bright IMac home and plugging it in (no crazy cords for peripherals), my husband went into PC withdrawl. At one point I vividly remember his voice screaming loudly across the house: “I just paid $2,000 for the biggest piece of shit ever!” Since this mental break-down my husband’s a total Mac junkie and the only thing, lately, that has curbed his cravings for a bite is Modern Warfare.
Right now as I write this I still question whether the invasion of technology into my life will bring about disaster. I have yet to touch a required reading book simply because I’m not sure how to engage with new, if not so different, and alien media. I print all my articles for class out before I can read them. Something still is missing when I read text online. I’m not sure whether it’s the touch, feel, smell, taste, or sound of flipping through my favorite book while sitting there on the library floor. Maybe it’s the connection with other human, book-lovers, or with other humans through ideas in books. All those things are available with computer. But the computer is colder, harder, and if you unplug it, it does nothing. I think what is more disconcerting about the connection with computer text is that the connection is ambiguous and undefined. I fear being connected anonymously to an unknown world. Is the world even real? Or is it just a bunch of simulacra? Yeah, online we are connected, but with who? With what? In cyberland and cyberfuture that I can imagine by just a minor stretch there are no beloved books except for those crumbling artifacts that the Time Traveler has seen. And that is a scary thought.

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