Flicker Fusion

How can I impress strangers with the gem-like flame of my literary passion if it’s a digital slate I’m carrying around, trying not to get it all thumbprinty?

Books not only furnish a room, to paraphrase the title of an Anthony Powell novel, but also accessorize our outfits. They help brand our identities. At the rate technology is progressing, however, we may eventually be traipsing around culturally nude in an urban rain forest, androids seamlessly integrated with our devices.

How can I impress strangers with the gem-like flame of my literary passion if it’s a digital slate I’m carrying around, trying not to get it all thumbprinty?

Books not only furnish a room, to paraphrase the title of an Anthony Powell novel, but also accessorize our outfits. They help brand our identities. At the rate technology is progressing, however, we may eventually be traipsing around culturally nude in an urban rain forest, androids seamlessly integrated with our devices.

James Wolcott wonders how we’ll brand ourselves in the era of the iPhone and Kindle.

I’ve often wondered about this notion. Interestingly, it wasn’t that long ago that the devices themselves said a certain something about the user – when I got my first iPod, clunky by today’s standards of haptic glass, they were accessories to the cult of Mac only, which branded the spartan white earbud wearer and identified her somewhat singularly on the train downtown. When those same earbuds became universal, the addition of the microphone node on the right side became a new signifier of a different, elite status, once again now all but meaningless by ubiquity.

But now that streaming bits are replacing paper as the medium of choice, our last outward cultural identity is fading. My bus, for instance, is traditionally broken down into New Yorker readers and Economist readers, with an almost alarming regularity. There are interlopers, of course, lugging technical tomes and the occasional gamer magazine, but non-book readers tend to break down into one of those two (there will sometimes appear a New York Times Magazine, but these are without fail also New Yorker readers. Please don’t ask why I know this, I just do.) Whether there’s a fundamental difference between the two isn’t a call I’m willing to make, especially since I fall in the decidedly superior New Yorker camp (natch).

I still haven’t found an e-device that replaces paper for me yet , certainly not in the transcendental leaps and bounds way that my iPod replaced my Discman, but I suspect this is only a matter of time. At which point, I’ll need to seriously consider the impact of replacing a handsome shelf of books as I recently did with every CD and DVD I’ve ever owned, ripped to a spacious hard drive and squirreled away out of site. I hated the stacks of shiny discs, impossible to organize, all clumsy and fragile, despite the fact that I once fetishized my music collection and the image of me it projected out into the world. But I love my books and have no clue what I’ll replace my bookshelves with some day. Probably a bigger, thinner, higher def TV.