Posts Tagged ‘eLife’

the everyman’s library; luddites beware

August 28, 2009

Books. We all have them, from the arthritic librarian with her thousands of hardbacked, leather bound, paper-faced, illustrated offspring, to the most timid bibliophobe with their tiny, moth-eaten picture book locked firmly in a box beneath their bed.

& what a rock n’ roll lifestyle they’ve lived. Every lifestyle, in fact. They’ve been loved, hated, burned, sealed in museums, wielded in great rallying rallies in the fists of respective ralliers, stored neatly on identikit IKEA shelving, rotted in the deep, cavernous depths of some schoolkid’s rucksack & shone as a great beacon of hope for humanity while everything about them descended uncontrollably into chaos. Books stand before us learned & infinitely wise. The entire history of human-kind & more locked firmly between their wood-pulp pages.

What have you done recently?

No. My point is not to belittle the incomparable lives of us all. My point is; aren’t books just brilliant. (That’s a very first point, not the basis for this blog entire, for that, I realise, would be a terrible waste of your time).

& now – & now – we have electronic books. Books that aren’t really books. Magazines that aren’t really magazines. Er. Poems that aren’t really poems. Just an incandescent typeface glowing happily up into our face-types. Isn’t it terrible? Isn’t it maddening to think that people will abandon with ignorance & wanton recklessness the beautiful bound & glued pages of the latest hardback, so they can stare drone-like into their iTome or eBrainer or something?

Well, actually, it isn’t really. Mass paperback production didn’t spell the end of luxurious hardback editions. Cassettes didn’t kill vinyls. CDs didn’t kill vinyls. Torrenting didn’t kill vinyls. (Vinyls are pretty bloody enduring). Technology will always improve, but the printed word will always be in-demand, always be vital to technology’s progress. Basically, people will still buy the real thing. I torrent. Yes. I do. But I also buy all the music I listen to. There’s a healthy medium. & so with books, especially at the moment, since a new ebook is the equivalent in cost to its paperback cousin. But the price wil sort itself out. Sellers will realise the need to drop the price of ebooks, not least because we don’t actually get anything physical out of the transaction.

I read ebooks on my phone at the moment. It’s brilliant, except for the fact that the screen is a bit small, it isn’t e ink so it glares a bit, & I refuse to pay for an ebook until I have a reader, so everything is pre-1950 (a good thing) & plastered with ads & warnings from project gutenberg (a bad thing). It’s good for short books. Metamorphosis/Time Machine books.

Sony have just released their new reader, in an entry-level & (what is presumably) a professional model. At £180 it’s decidedly cheaper than the previous model (which has also come down in price as the last few stocks dwindle, redundant on the shelves). & it’s sorely tempting to buy one. Until. Until. Until Kindle. Amazon’s elusive-on-British-shores revolutionary, silver, shiny, 3G utilising, literature-romping, fuck-machine of a reader. Christmas was the latest release-date rumour. But that’s going to drift past on an inevitable wave of disappointment. By which time, will the Sony reader have been worth getting all along? It handles PDFs better. I can still use gutenberg for free. & most of all it’s now.

Summer is nearly over however. I’m not going away anywhere. The use of the reader as a handy device to store neatly in my suitcase instead of a tidal wave of tatty travel reading is now redundant until next year. But it’s a gadget, & as it’s a gadget I want one. I want to tinker with its toggles, doodle with its dials & putter with its protrusions, I want to stroke its slipstream screen with rising anticipation at reading the first novel from its e ink surface.

Regardless of which reader, though, their mission isn’t to eradicate from the crevices of our minds the desire for corporeal texts, but to complement them. They want to be our little travel companion on long haul flights. Our bus-stop comrade. Our smug bed-side mate that won’t lose its place when the words shift restlessly before our tired eyes & we fall asleep… unlike those treacherous paperbacks. No. Not treacherous. Quaint. Quaint & familiar.

Let books, in all their forms, hold the torch by which our lives are lit – & ultimately held up to. They still beat real conversation.


rise of the trolls

April 4, 2009

Just when you thought it was safe to log back into the waters of the internet…

As much as I have wanted to, it is far too easy to lay into MySpace, it would feel a bit like attacking a bed-ridden, arthritic pensioner, with an intra-venous flow of morphine and Prozac, perpetually numb to any pain and mindlessly happy, with a chainsaw; sure, it’s easy, and you can pretty much annihilate it with one well-placed blow, but it isn’t any fun, there’s no sense of sport or confrontation. Facebook presents more of a challenge, since, bafflingly, some people actually and non-ironically seem to enjoy it. Launching an offence against Twitter is a bit like scoring an own goal; I maintain that it is the single most enjoyable and least invasive of all social networking – and if you don’t see more potential in it more than ‘I am doing a shit’, then you probably don’t get it. Meanwhile, an attack on Bebo… woah, wait, what? – exactly. Which leads me to the most recent addition to this sycophantic roster of self-satisfying media, all hail Omegle. By far the infant of the bunch, the suckling only newly wrenched from the electric teat of local networks and thrown, blinking, into the hostile, remorseless ether.

Omegle seems to go against the one rule that was beaten repeatedly into our soft, malleable skulls as children, that golden ticket designed to save us from every potentially dangerous experience ever; don’t talk to strangers! Ever! Don’t ever talk to fucking strangers! OR YOU WILL DIE. And that exactly, EXACTLY, is what Omegle forces us to do. And not even strangers we can identify by quickly checking their profile – to see whether this nubile 17 year old girl is either a 33 year old man or the government. There is no frame of reference here people! It is entirely anonymous. Forgive me if this sounds like an over-reaction, but it’s a basic reflex, pure and simple. WE DON’T TALK TO FUCKING STRANGERS! Especially the kind who are all called ‘stranger’! Yes, the catch-all term for the weirdos who use this service. This is not the preferred nomenclature, dude. You never know if you’re speaking to someone you spoke to before, and neither do they. Every time you log back in, every time you start a new chat, it’s like the internet has used the red-flashy thing on your mind and you are dumb and ignorant all over again, just as you were getting it on with someone both horny and (potentially) female.

Apparently, the ‘stranger’ is not even the biggest issue here. Apparently, and this is from the blog of the creator of the site, their biggest issue is trolls. Unless you’re down with teh 1337, the forum culture – and I hope those people are in the minority – then an internet troll is just like its fantasy equivalent; irritating, slow-witted, self-important and absolutely and completely charmless. These are the people that populate Omegle. As a result the vast number of conversations begin and end with monosyllabic references to male genitalia, or letters meaninglessly placed between two forward slashes (that one’s for you, 4chan user). That the founder of the site has to place this like a disclaimer in his first ever blog about the site surely isn’t a sign of good things on the horizon. A light at the end of the moronic troll’s tunnel? Oh no, it’s just a train, driven by big, fat, oozing pustule of troll. LOL. Not.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh, the site was only launched at the end of March, and its founder is only an 18 year old boy. 18. Yes. Maybe all this is is a massive joke, a kind of angsty rebellion against the life he was forced to live under his parents; chained to the people he knew so things never got out of hand, shielded completely from any contact with any stranger, ever. For those of us old and seedy enough to remember, it’s almost a throw back to the late nineties and early noughties, when the legendary MSN chatrooms were still free and open to anyone naïve enough to stumble in. Back when paedophilia only happened in PM windows, and the admins were just as vile as the masses congregated at their feet. And so for those of us old and seedy enough to remember these days, we’ll also remember how utterly terrible they were, how they made us feel even smaller and even more insignificant and unclean than we would in the real world. And while the internet has come on leaps and bounds since then, it is not time for nostalgia yet.

Remember your first day of school? The horrible, looming, intimidating figures of the older students and the teachers alike, and their grotesque features as they stooped to peer into our virgin white faces, which soon mixed tears with mud down our cheeks and over our lovely new blazers. Remember how gut-wrenchingly alone you felt? Well, welcome back. Omegle is either HAL become reality, or a governmental super-scheme from 1984. It attempts to pair us all off with whomever it feels best suits our needs as a pathetic human being, and we’re expected to run with this initiative and just open our eyes to completely risk-free communication.

I think what really gets me is the seemingly unconditional faith Omegle’s creator has in humanity. He trusts so much that this stranger-on-stranger rendezvous will work that it almost restores my own faith. Except, it is inevitably abused, and it’s shattered all over again. A never ending crisis of faith.

For fear of over-egging it, it’s probably best to end now. And trust me, in a few months time this article will be socially relevant. When we’re all emotionlessly plugged into Omegle’s main hub, ready for a personality upgrade.