Tag Archives: technology

Banishing the Ghost of Xmas Letters Past (I ♥ Facebook)

For the longest time I carefully avoided Facebook (and every other version of social media). I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but now that I’ve been on Facebook for a month, I’m definitely having fun.

Do You Hear the People Snore? 

I was of course a little leery about the whole privacy thing, but my main concern had to do with what to post. After all, the point of being on Facebook is to interact with people by sharing about yourself, and while the details of my life are endlessly fascinating to me, I had a hard time imagining that they would be quite so enthralling to others.

What on earth could I post about? Offering regular “and then I scrubbed the bathtub”-type updates didn’t seem like a good idea. (Or maybe I’m thinking of how to be boring on Twitter. Anyway.)

Even if I managed to ramp things up a bit (“Sitting in the kitchen eating madeleines and trying to remember why I never got around to reading Proust”), I would then be in danger of something much, much worse…the dreaded “Christmas Letter” effect.

Christoalphabetaphobia (Fear of Xmas Letters)

The Last of the Spirits (from A Christmas Carol), John Leech, 1843 (cropped)

The Heartbreak of Christoalphabetaphobia (The Last of the Spirits, John Leech, 1843)

For those of you lucky enough never to have seen one of these concoctions, here’s a sampling of what you missed:

 Dear Everybody,

                Once again we’ve had a fabulous year. Fifi graduated summa cum laude from obedience school. Pat got another promotion (which makes three in eighteen months). Since I’ve been spending so much time raising all that money for Save the Ferrets, I’ve cut back to only five days a week at my ice sculpting studio.

And so on and relentlessly on for an entire page (or worse, two pages), single spaced (extra points for using a background in a shade of green or red so dark the words can barely be read).

Needless to say, not the sort of thing I’m anxious to inflict on others, even accidentally.

Everything, All the Time (Except Christmas Letters)

Now that I’m actually on Facebook, I can see why people love it. It’s a huge, friendly free-for-all with everybody chatting and posting and commenting all over the place—lots and lots (and lots and lots) of posts that are thought-provoking, silly, informative, funny, intriguing, and—Danger, Will Robinson—fun to read.

Facebook, it turns out, is like a giant newspaper full of human interest stories [and for those who know exactly what I’m talking about, let us pause a moment to sigh over the decline of the daily paper].

In fact, the main problem I’ve discovered is that there’s just too much going on. I bounce around, reading what other people have to say and chiming in with my own ideas, and suddenly hours have gone by and I haven’t done any actual work (like, say, writing a few more pages of my new novel). Oops.

People on Facebook have been very welcoming—“Come on in, splash around, the water’s fine.” I’m looking forward to finding out what I have to contribute to the conversation.


True Confessions: How I Learned to Love My E-Reader (aka The Sober Joys of the Virtual Book)

Definitely Not an Early Adopter

Considering how devoted I am to the enjoyment of a well-made book as a physical object, it is with some chagrin that I report that not only have I purchased an e-reader, but I’m glad I did.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Luddite. I love computers. I got my first one sometime around 1985 (and I still miss my Kaypro, even though the screen was the size of a slice of bread and had only one color—green. My computer was even portable—meaning it came with a handle so you could heft all 20 pounds of it around if you needed to, which is more than could be said for the first few generations of PCs.).

Cuneiform Tablet from Assyria

Cuneiform Tablet from Assyria

Still, the minute I heard about e-books, I knew I was definitely not going to be reading any. Not ever. Electronic books just seemed so wrong, somehow (unlike all the other things that I’m quite happy to read from a screen, like online content for instance—but that is, of course, totally different). I used to say (to myself, since nobody was actually asking for my opinion) that the only way to get me near an e-book would be to stick an e-reader into my cold, dead hand.

[At this point, feel free to insert your own version of a “get off my lawn”-type rant about crazy newfangled notions and the decline of Western civilization.]

I suspect the clay tablet fans in Babylon had a similar reaction to that weird new papyrus/paper stuff.

The Irony is Getting Pretty Thick in Here

As time went by and I saw my students happily reading on their cell phones, tablets, and various other devices (when they were actually reading and not snapchatting or texting or watching cat videos) I began to reconsider. After all, anything that can get people reading has got to have some good points, right? But still, not for me. (That sound in the background is the universe snickering.)

And then Bold Strokes said they wanted to publish my book. Which was going to be an e-book-only release. Oh. Well, in that case… And lo and behold, e-books suddenly sounded like a great idea.

So yes, my conversion to the wonders of virtual reading has been largely a matter of enlightened self-interest (translation: I’d like to be able to read my own book). Thanks to some encouragement from my editor (always listen to your editor—she will save you from yourself, if you let her), I finally bought an e-reader.

Beware of Converts—They Tend to be Fanatics

So now it can be told—I really like my e-reader. Aside from the (not negligible) fun I’m having playing with a new tech toy, I’m crazy about the practicality of the thing.

I do love a good hardcover book, but let’s face it, those suckers are heavy. Especially when you’re lugging around more than one (I tend to read a couple of different books at once, usually a fiction and a nonfiction, which I alternate depending on my mood and how much reading time I’m able to snatch in between obligations). Apologies to all of you for whom this has always been obvious, but I’m getting a huge kick out of being able to hold a hundred-plus books in the palm of one hand, in an object the same size and weight as the (pen and paper) notebook I’m using to draft this post.

Plus (again, sorry to be Captain Obvious) you can read your e-book no matter how dim the light is, and bump up the type size, too (who knew?)—which are both huge recommendations for someone with aging eyeballs.

One Teensy Concern

8" Floppy Disc and Friends

8″ Floppy Disc and Friends

I do have one small worry about my e-reader. This whiz-bang piece of technology is—wait for it—technology. Which means that sometime between tomorrow and twenty years from now, it will be obsolete, and all of my hundreds of virtual books will be unreadable. (Skeptics: Eight-track tapes. Betamax video. Floppy discs. ‘Nuff said.)

Yes, I know that there will almost certainly be some way to convert all those e-books to whatever the next big tech thing turns out to be. But all that converting is also bound to be a big old pain in the rear.

A physical book, on the other hand, remains readable, as is, for hundreds of years. All you have to do is open it. Even if part of it gets damaged, the rest of it is still perfectly fine. A damaged e-book is just a bunch of scrambled electrons. Try using it to prop up a table leg, practice your posture, or fend off a zombie attack, and you will end up with coffee in your lap, a sad stoop, or a prominent spot on some undead chef’s bill of fare.

Heck, speaking of clay tablets, those little squares of hardened mud are still in great shape and easy to read (or so I’ve heard—unlike Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Model of a Modern Major General,” I claim no skill with cuneiform) thousands and thousands of years after they were created. It doesn’t get much more practical than that.

Try It, You Like It

Despite my one teensy concern, I do suggest that those of you still leery of taking the virtual plunge consider giving e-books a try. You might be pleasantly surprised.