I was sitting in an office in New York last month, getting ready for a client meeting when I realized a basic truth about myself: I’m a little old lady who’s stuck in the past. And maybe that’s kind of okay.
Full of well-funded startups with statistically brighter futures than most of their contemporaries, the space was bright and urbane – exposed brick, open plan, glass walls, abundant sunlight – and buzzing with the sounds of twentysomethings trying to launch The Next Big Thing. Gathering around I’m a little old lady who’s stuck in the pasta central table for a content strategy meeting, my clients – the co-founders of a company taking the headache out of moving – set down their laptops and selected their bagels from a pile in the center. One after another, sleek silver PowerBooks and MacBook Airs quietly clicked open, blending seamlessly with the room around them.
“Rarrrrarrrrrarrrrrrrrrr,” groaned my six-year-old laptop as it struggled to wake up alongside its younger counterparts. Scratched beyond belief and stretched to its memory’s capacity, the only thing it had in common with the other machines in the room was its maker. Although it’s an Apple, my white plastic model isn’t in production anymore, and probably for good reason. As a writer, I presumably pound the keys a bit more frequently than most people, but the physical indentations I’ve left in the E, R, A, S, C and V keys are visible from ten feet away. The edges of the keyboard’s palm rests are gone, leaving cragged gaps in their place where smooth ends used to be. And let’s not discuss hard drive space. There is none.
This little sidekick and I, though… we’ve been through a lot together. It’s moved cross country with me. It’s responsible for my entire first year of freelancing. It’s helped me write half of my first novel. I can’t just cast it aside for the hotter, newer version. Yes, my life would get a bit easier. Sure, there’d be less cursing. But like Yogi Berra (and Lenny Kravitz) said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” and this weary old guy’s still groaning. So I guess it’s not over yet.
Later in the day, as we gathered up our power cords – mine a grimy charcoal grey amid a sea of pristine white ones – I joked about how I just couldn’t send it off to the laptop graveyard quite yet. “I drove my last car for eleven years,” I explained. “I have a habit of sticking with things until they drive themselves into the ground.” One of the co-founders, a twenty-six year-old, smiled.
“I kinda respect that, actually,” she said.
I kinda think she meant it.
When it comes to technology, sometimes I feel like the last of my breed… a luddite. I don’t mind being an early adopter – new ideas excite me – but if I have something that’s good enough, I balk at the thought of replacing it. When I got a chance last year to write for a website focusing
on conscious consumerism, I leapt at it, and shortly thereafter stumbled across a saying that’s become a mantra of mine: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” And I try to abide by that, although the odd sundress, set of stationery or bed sheets can steer me right off of that
path. Still, I end up feeling half-proud and half-sheepish about my resistance to embrace the new… that is, until I run across someone who’s just like me.
“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”
Tolly Moseley is the sort of person to whom you can’t really assign an age. She looks as young as 20 and has ebullience to match, but if you’ve ever read her writing or had a conversation with her, you know she’s got a level of wisdom that generally takes half a century to cultivate. People use the term “old soul” to describe those kinds of people, and it fits well in her case. She’s bright and contemplative and pays rapt attention to the world around her – the kind of person we all like and want to be like. So imagine my delight when we met up with a handful of fellow Citygram contributors at Vuka Co-op a few months back and I was joking about my same sad little MacBook when I noticed its twin sitting in front of her, groaning just like mine. Stretched behind it was a grimy grey power cable that was once as white as snow.
Then he goes home and, I don’t know… prints his dinner and changes the oil in his car via Twitter or something.
Maybe it’s something about writers? Nope… another writer I know has a full cinema display set up behind her laptop, and she uses both together as a sort of mission control center to keep up with her projects. Yet another owns every new gadget on the market and sends his photographs to space and back as he’s taking them, instantly sharing them with his laptop, iPad, R2D2, C3P0 or whatever else he’s traveling with that day. Then he goes home and, I don’t know… prints his dinner and changes the oil in his car via twitter or something.
I guess some of us are just wired — pun intended, and I’m really sorry about that — for a more old-fashioned way of doing things. I don’t think it necessarily has to do with age or access — it’s more a mode of operation that just clings to some of us. That might be why I refuse (REFUSE!) to
buy a Kindle. Or a Nook. Or a whatever else you keep your e-books in that calls them up digitally at will and lets you scroll though them (SCROLL THROUGH THEM!) like you’re perusing some website and not A Farewell to Arms.
I realize as I write this essay that I’m composing it for a magazine available exclusively for iPad and iPhone. I realize that its readers will consume it through that medium, and I realize I sound insane for belaboring the benefits of the printed page. But you know what? I love a good book. I love dog-earing the pages I want to come back to. I love the smell of the ink, the feel of the paper, the tiny sense of accomplishment I get when I finish a chapter and get to start a new one with the crisp, clean flip of a page. I remember the covers — in vivid detail — of every single
book I’ve enjoyed. And sure, digital covers might look exactly the same, but they don’t travel around with me, face up, reminding me to come back to them when I have a few minutes to spare. Locked away in an e-reader or tablet, I’ll likely forget they’re there. Not because I
don’t love to read, but because when my face is buried in a book, I’m fully present. When my face is buried in a screen, I’m wait what’s that over there wow are you kidding that’s hilarious OMG I have to tweet that I can’t believe it’s even happening oh crap where’s my camera this is SO
going on Instagram right now.
Ah, yes… books.
As a person who’s spent nearly every day since elementary school wanting to produce a series of words, have them printed and bound and show up on a shelf at a bookstore – any bookstore – in a form that can be held on its own, bookmarked, opened and closed, I can’t bring myself to let them go. I’ve managed to create a paperless office for myself, for the most part, and I generate as little waste as possible, just as a general rule – but when it comes to my books, I put my foot down, if only for the sake of my sanity.
Online, we spin past hundreds (thousands?) of things a day that pique our interest but wind up getting passed over for something slightly shinier right next to (or on top of) them. The internet has turned my attention span into what were we talking about again? Ah, yes… attention spans. With a book – a good old-fashioned book with tangible chapters and frail, sweet pages – our imagination is devoured by the story. Time rushes by without our even realizing it, and voila! We’ve reached the end. With a screen – whether it’s the same screen we stare into all day at work or a small, With a book — a good old-fashioned book with tangible chapters and frail, sweet pages — our imagination is devoured by the story.portable one we reserve for off-hours media – it just isn’t the same. Not long ago, I got myself into something kind of sexy that I couldn’t shuffle out of. Departing for the first real (i.e., more-than-just-a-weekend) vacation I’d taken in more than three years, I tossed two books into my suitcase. The first was a classic, and a must-read for any adventurer: On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Having never read it before, I thought my first trip across the pond presented the perfect setting to dive into it. Thirty pages in, though, my brain was begging me to stop and go to sleep — I was on a redeye, after all, and let’s face it: the best way to keep up with Kerouac is to either caffeinate and start early or do a lot of drugs. Still, the first two chapters made me want to go outside and hitchhike, so I knew there was something there. And I’d committed to it, damn it. I’d bought this whole little bunch of pages all gathered together for my reading enjoyment, and they were coming all the way to London, Paris and Barcelona with me, and we were somehow in this together. I owed it to the book to finish it. We had an understanding.
I tried to sleep for most of the flight and save the book for later. On the flight home, I decided to take it easy and spend a few hours reading an old favorite, The Great Gatsby, since the movie was coming out that week and I wanted to be appropriately ready to descend upon it, fangs bared, and rip knowingly into its inadequacies when compared with the book… or, to be fair, to be pleasantly surprised at how well it did the story justice (spoiler alert: no such luck — my fangs got a workout).
The cover, familiar since high school, was comforting in and of itself, and as I thumbed through the pages, I remembered exactly why I fell in love with Fitzgerald’s writing in the first place. Those same page breaks, that same font — I got to relive a literary crush I’d developed two whole decades ago, with the exact same pacing, the exact same visual cues. Every once in a while, I’d shut the book and just look at the cover like a weirdo, remembering how my first experience with Nick taught me something about voice… about dialogue. And when I closed it again after finishing the whole thing, I felt satisfied. Serviced. Complete. By the way, I’m all the way back into On the Road now that, ironically enough, I’m home.
I still want to go out and hitchhike.
But hitchhike I probably won’t. Falling asleep under an umbrella by the pool this summer, though, I don’t want to worry about cracking a tablet into a zillion pieces. When Kerouac hits the ground on paper, he’ll barely make a thud.
Amy Lynch is an Austin-based writer focusing on culture, design, travel, green living and conscious consumerism.
Her work has appeared in/on The Huffington Post, GetMilkshake, and CNBC.com.
She provides editorial and commercial writing services for local and national brands and blogs, and she’s in the final throes of finishing her first novel.
Photography: Chris Perez