Friday, November 20, 2009

I Love the Smell of Libraries in the Morning

I'm a book buyer, an avid reader of fiction. I still do my research at the library. From dusty old books. Because they're tangible. The physical connection to the book is one of the reasons I love them. One more note to my overactive brain that says, "Cool. We're reading now. Shut everything out but just this one imaginary world, time, person, people, creature. Immerse yourself. Because you deserve it."

Books have been my alternatives to movies for a long time, first for the price difference and second for the lack of a screen, though the former is leveling out at an astonishing rate as the price of a paperback goes up a dollar a year. Increasingly, I've been entering physical bookstores and can't find the book I'm looking for since they refuse to carry it. Sure, I can order it through the physical store, sure I can order it online, but when I want a book NOW to read NOW and can't find it because it's not carried in the store hey -- a short walk away from this bookstore over here is a movie theater. It's lunchtime, and matinees are just $7. Which is $0.99 to $1.99 cheaper than the book I would have bought...big screen, here I come.

If they do have it in stock, the bookstore wins every time. Because you know what's NOT cheaper than a book? New eyes.

(Insert severe train-jumping veer to the left here. Weee!)

I squint at a screen innumerable hours a day. My eyesight is wretched--still steadily declining from the negative 7s and ousting me from the range of some formats of laser surgery. My morning and evening commutes, and bathroom breaks, are about the only time during the day when I'm "unplugged". I'm a technical writer, copy editor, graphics designer, and software quality assurance technician during my day job. I write fiction at a computer in the evening, I watch TV with my husband at dinnertime, I exercise to an assortment of cheap fitness DVDs and the Wii Fitness Trainer, and I even record my steps on a handheld game thingymabob. The last thing I need is another screen. I've resisted the smartphone, though the Droid is like a homing beacon calling to my inner Star Wars obsession. (In that every time I hear about it, the iconic Verizon "Can you hear me now" is replaced with "Where could he be? Threepio! Threepio, will you come in?") Procuring a smartphone at this point would likely sign the remaining usefulness factor of my eyes away.

The eReaders theoretically have a format that's book-like, and won't induce further eye deterioration. I'd be inclined to acquire one as the competition wears on, but only if I can, say, back up the data elsewhere in case the thing blows up, be able to redownload without repurchasing my purchases (via CONVENIENT activation/inactivation of licenses or somesuch), and limit my access to simply BOOKS from the thing. I've recently discovered I do too much from my laptop/desktop computers, and to that end I can't sit there and read an ebook for hours on end like I can with a physical book. This has nothing to do with eyestrain. There is simply too much going on.

Online, I can't shut out the world.

Nothing tells my brain to enjoy the book, immerse myself. Instead, my brain goes, hey, go check your email! Go update the latest version of this eReader software! And while you're there, go read the replies on your twitter! Go see the latest publishing news! Go work on your own book! (Thankfully that last one does in fact occur despite the other distractions around me. But at that point I actually have to disconnect from the internet to keep that kind of work going longer than 15 minutes.)

Do you have too much screen exposure? What steps of physical separation do you have to take to get a moment of peace or get back to work? How do you get away from the monotone electronic buzz that flits through our lives every hour of the day?

....Do you even try?

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