May we be exclusive?

PanoramaA few weeks ago, our friends M&D had us over for dinner. After an amazing meal, I wandered into the living room and discovered, for the first time McSweeney’s. Their Panorama publication was sitting on the sofa and compelled me to read it. In its pages, I found a book review like no other. Before I knew it, I was lost in its pages. I looked up and my husband and M were reading, too. I’m usually not anti-social, but when I skimmed the bottom of the page and didn’t see a URL, I knew I wouldn’t find the articles again. I kept reading…we all did.

To be honest, I haven’t felt this excited about reading in a long time. Cradling the Panorama Book Review, I felt like I’d discovered something…and it was all mine. I felt that old sense of urgency I used to feel as a kid in the library when I’d find a new book. Or in college, in the reference section, when I’d find something I couldn’t check out. Back then, the text felt sacred, important, in fact, it would often be the most important thing in that moment. I had a sense that if I didn’t devour it right then, I wouldn’t have another chance.

Now, I take text for granted. I’ll get to it later, it will be there. In fact, it will be wherever I am. Since the supply exceeds my demand, sometimes I don’t even bother to tag or bookmark it…sure, it’s a laissez-faire attitude toward reading, but usually I’m able to find it again.

That moment at M&D’s, though, felt sacred. It was just me and the Panorama. Each page felt like something no one had ever read before. Sacred. Have I already used that word? Probably. In reflecting on that reading experience, I realize that the Internet is so communal that I rarely really feel an individual connection to anything. Everything is shared, ordinary. We’ve bought that that’s a good thing, but is it always? Isn’t there something magical about experiencing something alone?

Today, I read more of Panorama (I ordered my own copy and anxiously waited for delivery). The magic happened again. I felt like a Reader, not a consumer. No links to click, no backbutton, no comments, no delicious tagging, no digging. Just me and the text. I like the exclusivity of print. Sometimes it’s nice to feel like you may be the only one reading something. Sure, community is important and the collective is definitely contributing to our knowledge about everything from the everyday to the esoteric. But it’s also important for us, I think, to believe that we have original ideas, that we’re not one in 10 million reading about or thinking about the same thing. Now, as the kernel of an idea comes —

you instantly wonder…
has it already been?
…so you Google it…
as the staggering list of link results appear, you think, yes, someone has already thought of it…

I’m very much a proponent of digital texts, but their very strengths, access, speed, on-demand, sometimes make them a weak thinking partner. I hope we don’t lose the luxury of deep thought, of thoroughly losing ourselves in a text–rather than hyper searching, chasing knowledge instead of sitting with it.

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