Wednesday, September 28, 2011

words on a page

Like Sara Barbour, writer of Kindle vs. books: The dead trees society, I have never used a Kindle, even though I am probably closer to the age of her grandmother, who was grateful for such a gift. No Kindle, no Kobo, no e-book readers at all. Also like Barbour, the only encounter I have had with an e-reader so far is over someone's shoulder while riding public transit.

I am not repelled by e-readers, but neither am I particularly drawn to them. I have some of what Barbour described of her romance with actual bound books. I treasure an old paperback box set of The Lord of the Rings that was given to me when I was a scared 12-year-old in hospital. I read those books so much that I had to tape the bindings back together. I later bought a hard-cover set, but I will never get rid of my original set. I have other books that are associated with old memories.

I love seeing books on shelves. I love the different colours, heights, thicknesses, typefaces on the spine. I love pulling a book down from a shelf, either for the first time or for the umpteenth time. The gift of a book is special, not least because it is a rare gift (one problem with family who don't really know me). The gift is even more special when it introduces me to a world that I had not known previously. It's like a new corner of the universe suddenly opening up to me.

An e-book can just as easily be a gift, and a thoughtful one, but somehow it would not feel the same, at least not yet. One thing that always strikes me about my over-shoulder peeping is that one book on an e-reader looks just like another. There is no individuality. An e-book is totally about the content, not about the medium. An e-book is a disembodied book.

However, I can see myself buying an e-reader someday, or being happy to receive one as a gift. If I buy it myself, it will probably be driven by the desire for convenience. When travelling, it would be much easier to slip a Kindle into my carry-on luggage than to choose a particular book or books to bring because they fit in the available space. I could read a book in the dark! And I could finally catch up on all those classics that I've meant to read but never have. If I had a Kindle, I have a feeling it would be my constant companion.

I've gotten used to so much else during my life. I'm sure I would get used to not having to use a bookmark, to not turning physical pages, to not smelling the paper and breaking in the binding of a new volume. There are other pleasures in the world. And in the end, I am really reading a book for the writing. Great writing will draw me in no matter whether it is printed on paper or formed out of pixels on a screen.

When books are only published in electronic form, should such a day come, will we have lost something, as Barbour says? Perhaps. But there are those who think that we lost something when we started to write rather than telling our stories aloud and passing them on orally. And surely there were some who lamented the replacement of the scroll by the new-fangled codex. Every generation loses something that the next generation never knows it missed.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

why me?

Not only am I an accidental geekist. I'm now a kind of an accidental technology commentator. Serendipity—which is a happy accident. And it's really what having a blog is all about. No one tells you what to do. You try to find ways to draw people in. You hope they like what they see, come back for me, and pass the link on to others. Successful blogs are the written equivalent of viral videos.

Why should you care what I think about technology?
  • My spelling and grammar are impeccable.1 OK, my spelling isn't actually impeccable, but I always correct errors I find. And if you see me write with poor grammar, you can be sure I did it on purpose. Like, for comic effect.
  • If there are any errors, you can always post a comment! I monitor comments but I let all but the spam through.2
  • I have a wry sense of humour that comes from decades of bantering with my life partner, as well as from unhealthy doses of Monty Python and the Kids in the Hall.
  • I'm pretty smart, and I've learned a lot both doing my job and spending time glued to my computer and to the interwebs when I should have been outside playing (or doing my job).3
  • I try never to comment on anything that I don't know enough about. I learned my lesson on that one a long time ago. If I do, you can call me on it.
  • I am a skeptic, not a cynic. I don't like everything. I don't hate everything. I'm Fair and Balanced.™4
  • I'm older than dirt. OK, not that old, but I wasn't born yesterday. Not even close, sadly. I've been in the business for a long time.
  • Did I mention about comments? I handle feedback very well, even feedback that tells me I don't know what I'm talking about. Which I might not, despite trying not to get into that situation (see above).
Besides, how many female technology commentators do you know? Hopefully you're at least somewhat curious.

1English degrees really are good for something.
2Unless a comment is egregiously nasty, of course!
3Just kidding. I always do my job.
4Yes, they really trademarked that phrase. I'll probably get busted for using it.

Friday, September 23, 2011

geek happens

I never intended to become a geek. At university, I was an English major. I had had some early exposure to computers in high school—I remember teletypes and paper tape (yikes!)—but I was totally about liberal arts at uni. The only computer course I signed up for, which I did because I thought I should, was deathly dull. It's the only course I ever withdrew from, not just because it was boring but because in those days you had to line up at obscene hours of the night to get computer time. The motivation just wasn't there.

And yet here I am with 17 years of software development and six years of technical writing on my CV. How did that happen?

Like this: With my shiny new English degree in hand, I sent unsolicited resumes to every publishing company in the Boston area. Out of dozens of publishers, the only company that contacted me was a publisher of technical trade magazines. First came production, then a leap to editorial, then a kind of sideways hop into software development (when such a hop was still possible), and before I knew it, a few decades had passed. My geek card is a bit crumpled, but I still have it.

I spend far too much time on Facebook (and not just complaining about the changes). I send and receive lots of email. Sometimes I chat with friends via Skype or Yahoo Messenger or Google Talk—yes, I'm on all three. I used to have a very active Second Life. I show off my skills and experience on LinkedIn, log my music plays on, download new material from eMusic, and write a blog—make that two blogs now. I even joined Google+ during the invitation-only beta test period.

That all sounds sufficiently geeky, right? But I am often a reluctant geek. I tried Twitter years ago but deleted my account and have never been back. I don't put my bookmarks on Delicious, and I'm not connected to a cloud. I can't remember where my Flickr account is. I actually go to Facebook rather than posting from some mobile device. My mobile phone is as dumb as a post! When I hop on transit, that's time for me to unplug and read a book--an actual book. And when Mashable tells me that Facebook is going to revolutionize my life, I raise one skeptical eyebrow (metaphorically, since sadly I can't actually raise only one eyebrow).

Sometimes I like technology for its own sake, but most often I like it if it serves my needs. And my needs are not themselves technological. I work alone in my home office, but I'm a very social creature, so that's why I hopped onto social networking fairly early on. I don't think it's likely that Facebook will ever revolutionize my life, but it does help me keep in touch with a lot of people. I have reconnected with family and friends far away. I stay on top of events that don't show up in the weekly arts paper. I follow links that look interesting.

One of my new favourite services is Meetup is a service that allows people to set up groups based around some shared interest and to arrange events at which group members can meet. According to the founders of Meetup, the idea was to use technology to get people off their chairs, out from behind their computers, and into the real world. It was perfect for someone like me who was somewhat isolated and wanted to meet new people. I am active in five groups and the organizer of a sixth. Meetup hasn't revolutionized my life, but it has certainly enhanced it.

I'm not the kind of geek who stays on top of every latest trend. I don't latch onto every new toy that comes along. But I do like to find out about new geeky things that might be useful to me, or just fun.