Walking Back to Happiness?

There is a movement afoot, noticeable in the media but not yet glaring. This may be due to the myriad, other news items clamouring for our attention at the moment, but still-

The movement goes like this: there is a stepping back into bygone decades, a nostalgia for the past. It is not confined to those of us who are of mature years, no; all age groups appear to be involved.

First there was a resurgence of vinyl records, believed to be of better sound quality [unlikely] and rendering listening an altogether enhanced experience. I remember gathering with friends as a teenager to listen to a new ‘LP’ from a favourite band. We’d lounge around in someone’s bedroom in total, inert silence and listen to it in entirety. It’s difficult to imagine today’s teenagers doing this.

Then there are books. Personally I’m still wedded to my Kindle; but the wave of paper book devotees has grown, their claims that they must have the aroma, the feel and the weight of paper outweighing the sheer convenience of storing thousands of books on a tiny device. I do have sympathy for the argument that bookshelves are a most attractive feature-otherwise I wouldn’t go back.

According to recent reports, many amateur photographers are turning to film for a more satisfying and authentic photographic experience. This is a strange one. Why? Film is difficult to store, expensive to buy and even dearer to process. Apparently having a limited number of frames prompts a more measured and careful photo. I’d be all for it if it eradicated the odious habit of the selfie, otherwise I’ll be sticking to my digital camera and discarding all my many photographic mistakes.

On to games. I’m right behind this one. When electronic games became a thing board game activity seemed to die a death. But so much of electronic gaming is solitary! Monopoly, Scrabble, Risk, Ludo, Cluedo etc-these are the games of my childhood, where we practised counting, adding up, reading and, best of all, turn taking. Now I’ve discovered that board game cafes are springing up-places where groups can go to enjoy some time together, which seems to me to be one of the best ideas ever. People may even begin to speak to each other, perhaps rather than spend their time together transfixed by their little screens.

The latest contributor to the bygone era crusade may be cash. Anyone interested in science fiction writing might be forgiven for assuming that in the future cash will have tumbled down into the slots of history but no, evidently there are those who are turning to comforting notes and coins in a reassuring bid to stave off penury. It does seem counter-intuitive, does it not? We are encouraged to cut our bills by using direct debit and protect ourselves by carrying less cash.

What’s next? Are these changes are a part of a more sinister world that is taking backwards, retrograde steps in terms of shaking off modern, enlightened liberalism? If so we’ll soon begin to see the reappearance of some of the rough justice, bigotry and xenophobia that I, for one had hoped would have disappeared forever.

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The Future According to Grace

Developments in technology move faster than it takes to draw breath, don’t they? This is how it appears, anyway to one who is becoming ancient. A small item in the [on line] paper I read bore the headline ‘How to organise and store your digital photos’. Goodness! A couple of decades ago storing photographs was all about new developments in photo albums and shelving. Do you mourn the loss of photo albums? Or are you delighted to have less dusting and more space in your home? So many technological developments concern scaling down-in some instances to nothing at all.

The same applies to books of course. Myself, I am a convert to digital books-with the great exception of children’s literature, of course. To me the content over-rides any sentimental attachment to paper. I am uncertain, however on the issue of ‘condensed book apps’ which precis novels down into 15 minute reads-this may be carrying minimalism a little too far.

Then there is television. Sets are becoming ever slimmer. Who remembers the enormous sets of the fifties with their tiny, flickering screens inside large, elaborate wooden cabinets? And film-videos seemed like an incredible leap forward in innovation but were soon replaced with the much reduced DVDs then the physical was done away with altogether by downloads. Music has moved in the same direction, with one click replacing the need for record players and records, cassette tapes and ultimately CDs.

Could this happen in the kitchen? It may have already begun. The need for kettles has been negated by taps that produce boiling water and there is more in the pipeline [so to speak] with robotic food preparation and smart this, that and the other.

And while all this minimalising, scaling down and disappearing altogether has been going on, we, the owners [figuratively] of all this technology become bigger and bigger. I wonder then that technological wizardry has not been developed to shrink humans, too. Yes, of course there are gastric bands and so on but these are not guaranteed to be successful or permanent. The idea of shrunken food, however has been tackled in literature. Turn-of-the-century writer Stephen Leacock [http://www.online-literature.com/stephen-leacock/literary-lapses/10/] wrote an amusing short story about a baby who snatched and swallowed a tablet containing 13 Christmas dinners which did not end happily.

The obvious outcome must be that the need for human beings is removed altogether. I imagine there will be developmental stages where man and computer merge. In the beginning the machine will be an appendage such as we see already [think earphones and those weird Bluetooth thingummies fastened to peoples’ ears]. The takeover will progress with insertions into brains, replacement limbs and organs then mobility aids will remove the need for limbs [now think Daleks from Dr Who]. Reduce the jelly-like substance at the heart of the machine and…Bingo! Man disappears from the Earth to be replaced by technology. I just hope the machines make a better job of it all than we have.

The Mysterious Case of the Missing Christmas Shopping

I have explained in a previous post my reasons for letting my fingers do the walking this year and undertaking all my Christmas gift purchases via the internet. Once I’d got over mourning for festive strolls along decorated streets lined with extravagant window displays and popping into coffee shops for chocolatey, spicy treats before perusing the German style market accompanied yet again by Slade’s ‘Here it is-Merry Christmas’, Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’ or Wizard’s ‘I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day’ I began to throw myself into digital shopping with gusto.

I was cautious at first, prudently comparing prices and products in the way that internet shopping encourages you to; shave a few pounds off here, get free delivery there, 10% off next purchase, BOGOF et al.

After a while the availability and range began to work their seductive magic and comparisons began to fall by the wayside. The shipping address and personal details were filling themselves in, curtesy of ‘Chrome Autofill’. My bank card number was committed to memory in a kind of ‘brain autofill’. Wonderful! At Amazon a mere ‘click’ would do the trick; forget the card details, even.

I sat back in a satisfied haze of anticipation. I would only need, now to wait for the various parcels to arrive. This haze also had the capacity to obliterate all memory of the items ordered and organised saving of order numbers, invoices etc had of course become sketchier as the shopping frenzy had progressed.

What had I ordered?

I had a vague idea that one or two objects’ origins were not of this country-or even of this continent. No matter. I was in plenty of time.

Wasn’t I?

My fickle fingers made their cautious way back to Amazon, where a reassuring ‘where’s my stuff’ part of the menu led me to at least a reminder of the Amazon purchases I’d made. I looked down the list-a mysterious, eclectic mix of items-and wondered who it was all for. To be fair, some things had arrived, resulting in some unseemly collisions on the stairs [I am not the sole internet shopper in this house] or some resolutely grumpy peering from windows, depending on the time of day.

Some purchases had, allegedly been dispatched. Others had tentative delivery ‘windows’. These tended towards the flexible, eg ‘delivery between 28th November and 20th January’.

Which year? I wondered.

There were helpful notes alongside some. ‘This item cannot be tracked’ announced one. Great. ‘Contact seller’ said another, which I did, via the accompanying proforma. WHERE’S MY STUFF? I shouted in capitals. The thing was supposed to have originated in Hong Kong.

Reader, there are now four days to go and this story is turning into a suspense drama. Will the mystery items arrive in time? Will they arrive at all? Forget Frantic Fridays, Manic Mondays, Shopaholic Saturdays and Tension-filled Tuesdays; It’s all about Waity Wednesdays. I’m off to print out a picture of the missing purchase, which will have to do for now.

Shameless gadgetry of the reading kind.

Are you an e-reader or a p-reader? I am guessing you are a reader, because you are reading a blog-but which sort?

                The march of all things digital forges on like the charge of the Light Brigade. The digital front, I believe, cannot now be halted. We have seen this irrevocable development in music, where downloads have eclipsed all other forms including tapes, CDs, mini-discs and the like. Of course all these formats are still available, together with ‘vinyl’. ‘Vinyl’ however is very much the preserve of nostalgia junkies, those of us who lament the passing of the album and it’s arty, expansive cover…useful, as I recall, for all manner of activities-proper and improper.

                Increasingly, a similar divide exists in literary production. Among readers, as with music lovers, people tend to be either firmly in the e-book camp or clinging emotionally to p-books. In defence of p-books, most of the argument tends towards romantic and usually includes some of the following:

  • ‘Oh-but I love the smell of a real book’.

Yes-the smell. Most of my paperback purchases were from charity shops or second hand bookshops. The smell would often be accompanied by stuck together pages and unidentifiable stains…

  • I like to hold a proper book in my hands and turn the pages.

OK. [why?]

  • They look lovely on the shelves/add to the decor etc

They do. I still have packed shelves of real, proper books. They do look attractive. I just haven’t added to them in recent years.

  • You can write on them/highlight/return to parts/bookmark and so on.

Actually, I never did scribble on books, even as a child, when I believed, as I do now that a book was an object to be revered, treasured and kept pristine for posterity. You can do all of these actions to an e-book.

  • Bookshops and libraries will go out of business.

Many bookshops will go out of business, like record shops. They will either have to adapt in cunning ways or sink without trace. I think there will always be a market for children’s books, for example.

 

I am a convert to e-readers, although I have regrets about owning one from a certain, best-selling, market smothering, tax-avoiding company.  Before I succumbed to going all electronic my reading purchases were random and not necessarily successful. I was inclined to stick with writers I knew or titles I’d heard of.

I’d get anxious before any lengthy travel that I would be stuck somewhere remote without anything to read, not having the capacity or strong enough arms to carry the weight of that number of books [my reading appetite is of the voracious type]. Now I can load a library full of titles and if I’ve devoured them all I can access some internet and replenish the supply in seconds.

Husband has a subscription to a newspaper on his reader, so that he will never be anywhere without knowing the latest rugby results or how much lower the pound has sunk.

Most books are considerably cheaper to buy than their paper versions which means that the device has more than paid for itself by now. Classics are, for the most part, completely free. This has led me to tackle many titles I might have avoided, [with varying degrees of success!] I am still flogging my way through ‘Les Miserables’, albeit with interludes of respite, but I loved Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’.

 

So I am wedded to my tiny, purple, leather clad gadget, even though I still read an occasional paperback for my book club. How about you?