af: timequake (1997)

af Kurt Vonnegut

 

It now appears that books in the form so beloved by Uncle Alex and me, hinged and unlocked boxes, packed with leaves speckled by ink, are obsolescent. My grandchildren are already doing much of their reading from words projected on the face of a video screen.

Please, please, please wait just a minute!

At the time of their invention, books were devices as crassly practical for storing or transmitting language, albeit fabricated from scarcely modified substances found in forest and field and animals, as the latest Silicon Valley miracles. But by accident, not by cunning calculation, books, because of their weight and txture, and because of their sweetly token resistance to manipulation, involve our hands and eyes, and then our minds and souls, in a spiritual adventure I would be very sorry for my grandchildren not to know about.

devotion of the guardian
devotion of the guardian

I taught how to be sociable with ink on paper. I told my students that when they were writing they should be good dates on blind dates, should show strangers good times. Alternatively, they should run really nice whorehouses, come one, come all, although they were in fact working in perfect solitude. I said I expected them to do this with nothing but idiosyncratic arrangements in horizontal lines of twenty-six phonetic symbols, ten numbers, and maybe eight punctuation marks, because it wasn’t anything that hadn’t been done before.

In 1996, with movies and TV doing such good jobs of holding the attention of literates and illiterates alike, I have to question the value of my very strange, when you think about it, charm school. There is this: Attempted seductions with nothing but words on paper are so cheap for would-be ink-stained Don Juans or Cleopatras! They don’t have to get a bankable actor or actress to commit to the project, and then a bankable director and so on, and then raise millions and millions of buckareenies from manic-depressive experts on what most people want.

Still and all, why bother? Here’s my answer: Many people need desperately to receive this message: “I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people don’t care about them. You are not alone.”

the air that did not stir
the air that did not stir

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