are we losing our senses

In January, I went to lunch with a friend. She asked what my “coolest” Christmas gift was.

“My son gave me two Wilco CDs,” I said.

“Which ones?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I just put them on my ipod.”

Are we losing our senses? Is the feel of life slipping away? Maybe even the sight and smell. Although taste and hearing appear to be safe for the moment.

Do you remember the cover of “Tapestry”? Carol King in jeans one knee up as she sat on the window seat with her cat.  The brick wall behind Neil Young on “After the Gold Rush”? The orange unicorn on the cover of The Catcher in the Rye?

Don’t get me wrong. The electronic revolution is doing a lot of good. My entire music collection is safe on my ipod—shelves and shelves boiled down tIMG_2140o a rectangle two inches by four. With my Kindle, I can be reading a book in seconds and take a gazillion books with me in my purse. These are good things.

“Well, what did the CDs look like?” my friend asked.

“I don’t know,” I said again. “One was white, I think.”

If we don’t need books anymore, we won’t need bookmarks. Will book stores go the way of record stores? No more cover art?

But there’s cover flow, you say. True enough.

IMG_2132No more breaking in a spine. No more face-down. No more cutting the corner off the book jacket to hide the price. “Thumbing through a book” will take its place alongside “rolling up your car window.”

I’m not saying we’re not living in a world of progress. We’ll be saving trees and creating less waste.

When I got home from lunch that day, I dug through my drawers of CDs until I found the two new ones. The one I remembered as white was actually grey with a broken egg shell on it. “A Ghost is Born.” The other one had a single bird, an eagle maybe, flying on a white sky—“Sky Blue Sky.”

My favorite alIMG_2144bum covers hang in frames on my wall. Do you think…? Surely not. But just in case, we should try to remember the details. So we can tell our great-grandchildren. A book was heavy in our hands, we’ll say. The paper and ink together smelled like a new book. No, that won’t work anymore.

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39 thoughts on “are we losing our senses

  1. Ahhh … Tapestry. It’s still one of my favorites. I don’t know, I catch myself feeling nostalgic and wonder if that means I’m old. But I don’t think all progress is good in every sense.

    Have we lost our senses? Yes, in many ways. Everything is disposable now … including relationships. And even so many of our relationships now are “virtual” and that’s decidedly odd to me. Although, without this electronic society, I wouldn’t have “met” you, and that would be my loss.


    • You’re right. I don’t think all progress is good in every sense. As much as I regret the end of the album, CDs are smarter in every sense. But if we make the next leap, which is to virtual CDs only, then there will be nothing to hold in our hands. And somehow, that’s troubling.

      An electronic society–that is what we have, isn’t it? And with far more positives than negatives–moving out from our desks globally.


  2. Linda spoke my thoughts on relationships: I wouldn’t converse with hardly any writers if not for blogging. But … I covered this topic a while back on my blog titled Does Kindle Make Me Look Fat. I miss the days of record stores. I don’t own an ipod. I still listen to radio. And though I’ll never say never, but I doubt I’ll ever own a kindle. I could see it if I travelled a lot, but unfortunately, I don’t.


  3. Cynthia, this post makes me sad. Silly, I know, stuck in my ways, yes.

    I do not own kindle. I could not own a kindle. The feel of a book in my hand, the smell of the paper, the smudge marks and scuffles left by myself or other. Environmentally, it all makes sense to me, emotionally, not at all. (oh, and nothing sounds like an lp)


  4. I sympathize; I’m pretty unabashed about how sad it all makes me. Which is a bit nonsensical, since nobody’s preventing ME from buying albums and paper books. But the tactile experience of holding a book is so special to me…I hate to think that it will disappear from future life.


    • I see books getting smaller, but I’m holding out hope that books made of paper and ink are different from albums in this respect: albums could be so easily scratched and ruined that CDs made so much more sense. And even if it goes to virtual CDs, really there the sense involved is hearing. So okay.

      But with books, electronic ones are not improvements across the board as CDs were. Here the main sense is sight. So I think, I hope, that real, live books are here to stay, right alongside electronic ones, which are better only in some senses.


  5. “Progress” is not neccessarily “progress.” No Kindle for me. I have the same alarm clock I had in law school 30 years ago because it still wakes me up. The thoughts in the post cause me to pause before I “progress” w/ the latest technological advancement- does it really make my quality of life better? Do i prefer things the way they are? If so, isn’t that not only OK but preferable?


    • I totally see that if you prefer things the way they are, that that’s okay, but I don’t see how it’s preferable except from a financial standpoint.

      Minor detail about the alarm clock in question. I would say that the main purpose of a clock is to tell the time, and almost nightly, you have to look at mine for that. 🙂


  6. It is sad to think of all the things that disappear with books, the tactile importance of the pages and the first creaks when you break the spine.

    My son is 18 months old and there are so many things I thought I would miss about my old life when he arrived. I was worried about giving up freedom and lazy afternoons and naps and running off with my friends for a weekend adventure on a moment’s notice. And I did miss those things at first. But the more time passed the less I missed them. They had been replaced by laughter and giggles and moments of awe over little things like bubbles and feathers and blueberries and tree leaves in the wind. And as Sam continues to grow and change and discard old tricks and joys for new ones I find myself beginning to miss the little person he used to be. But each new stage brings new joys, and I have to pay attention or I miss them.

    Maybe in the future we’ll talk about how we miss the ipod or the kindle, how we used to love the little box and the buttons and the wheel. Maybe in the future we’ll have all of it on a tiny hard drive on a pair of sunglasses attached to our faces and we’ll reminisce about the good old days when we held things in our hands.

    I haven’t been able to bring myself to cut Sam’s hair yet, to snip away the curls that are wrapping around his ears and keeping him a baby. I haven’t been able to bring myself to buy an ipod or a kindle yet either. I’m sure that when I finally cut Sam’s hair and he becomes a boy rather than a baby, I will miss what is lft behind. But I also know I will love the next thing… once I allow myself to let go.


    • Beautiful comment, Barb. It deserves to be reposted on your blog for Sam, right next to the adorable picture of him in the hat and shovel! And if there’s anything that will propel you into the future, it’s kids. Get ready!

      Oh yes, there is something about holding things in our hands. And we can still do that with ipods and kindles. Moment of appreciation.

      Moving on to the glasses with a tiny hard drive–I’m already seeing the possibilities there.


    • Barb, what a wonderfully balanced look at life and its movement. I had a personal chuckle at your prediction that someday “we may have all of it on a tiny hard drive on a pair of sunglasses attached to our faces” and miss the “good old days when we held things in our hands.”

      First, I worked for a hands-on learning dept at a university here, and the learning experience is made a deeper part of us when we work with things ourselves rather than just read about them. I also remembered being at a concert when my seat partner was chastised by the officious concert hall mgr for taking a photo of the curtain calls. Little did he know, as he looked down at her disapprovingly, that her eyeglass frames held two little microphones, the better to remember the concert with and to (re)experience in a less ephemeral way.

      I remember when TV boxes were treated as enemies of movie theaters and film itself and of course radio would die immediately. I don’t know what happened to the the idea of the co-existence of different ways of experiencing ideas from a world of diverse minds and modes.

      The key is likely (from what I see of entertainment history) that we don’t need to “let go” because we will just have more choices and can stay with the ones that work best for us – except that it may be good to let go of the idea that only paper books represent the ‘right’ and even ‘human’ way to read.

      That there will be -less- paperbooks is almost certain but it’s also a blessing when it comes to what has been the increased killing of trees for that purpose.

      As someone who discovered the Kindle late, in my circle (I was the 4th), I became mesmerized by it and now read far more than I ever did and have often wondered why that is.

      I finally realized that the rectangle acts as a sort of magic window for me (as a paper book does for others) into other worlds, so much of it available to me at any given time, depending on my mood, my need to learn something I ordinarily wouldn’t but bought/downloaded a book for, and I never wonder “where did I put that book” or regret leaving it at home when out and about. Every book I’m currently interested in is with me whenever I leave the house. And then there are the newspapers and magazines. I am, most of all, info-drawn.

      We who Kindle quite a bit sometimes joke that we are book readers, not book sniffers 🙂 But more seriously, what is a book ?

      A collection and special distribution of words written by someone who wants to tell me something, who wants me to get lost in the world created by that person. When an author sits down to write, I don’t think that s/he is thinking about what the cover will look like (though that always comes later) or what the layout of the externals will be.

      What I experience when reading on my Kindle is — without attention to those eye-catching externals — something that feels like direct contact with the author’s mind.

      There is less distraction for me — the words on the facing page, the look of the book, sometimes the weight of it. It’s only the words that matter.

      A flaw of e-books is that the ‘look’ becomes so generic. They all fit on the same, for now, gray, rectangle. But I experience it more as a window, and the holder (a book is a holder also) disappears. For some reason my attention is held longer and I no longer turn on the TV as I used to when reading. It’s not about the holder but about the words, as chosen by the writer and which I’m giving total concentration.

      There is something mystical about that for me and I’ve noted there’s a hypnotic effect for some thousands of others who post to the Kindle forums their new addiction to reading without end. Maybe the reasons are different for others. But those are mine.

      More practically, I’ve found that some of my books have print that is artistically chosen to be a sort of light gray and sometimes either too small or too large. With the Kindle I can make the fonts two levels smaller or several levels larger and the words re-flow, as they say, in a way that is more comfortable for the eyes and the mind.

      Because the text is on a gray reflective surface (rather than emissive as with LCD or tube displays), it seems to mean less eye strain for a great many of us.

      Above all, is the treasure of so many books in one holder that is 10 oz — whole libraries for some — that I can choose from wherever I am. Many of us now are disappointed when waiting-lines end. I never wish anymore that I had brought another book.

      As for highlighting (I skimmed another thread on that), I highlight constantly and even add notes, and I can call these up and they appear in teasing summaries, in the order that they were made, so I can see quickly what most interested me that I might want to discuss with others, and I can instantly go to the page for any one of them.

      The highlighting is a re-enforcer and now (when we give permission) our highlighting and notes are saved along with the book for us and we can browse them in our own web-space, one long web page with everything we highlighted or wrote to a book. Of course that means we can copy a portion that a friend might enjoy discussing, in email, without having to retype it.

      But it’s not the ‘sad’ world portrayed too often, as the focus is still on the author’s book, and paper bound books will survive though they won’t be the only way to read the author.

      If a book really moves me I want it in hard copy also. But I don’t see keeping every one I’ve ever read (and will never read again) or having it just displayed in a room for what it says about me though I’ve always enjoyed having a library available to me at home, and you can’t help but savor the titles of books that have meant something to you.

      I do worry about the loss of bookstores I can walk into and many of us still support favorite bookstores in our local areas. But a savvy store (like Barnes & Noble with Fictionwise) will also offer the e-book option and remain profitable, I hope.

      – Andrys


      • Andrys-

        Thank you so much for such a different perspective on reading from a Kindle! I’d like to highlight some of your great points:

        –what happened to the the idea of the co-existence of different ways of experiencing ideas from a world of diverse minds and modes.

        –the rectangle [of the Kindle] acts as a sort of magic window for me (as a paper book does for others) into other worlds

        –What I experience when reading on my Kindle is something that feels like direct contact with the author’s mind.

        –There is less distraction for me — It’s only the words that matter. There is something mystical about that for me.

        –Above all, is the treasure of so many books in one holder that is 10 oz — whole libraries for some — that I can choose from wherever I am.

        –As for highlighting (I skimmed another thread on that), I highlight constantly and even add notes. Highlighting and notes are saved along with the book for us and we can browse them in our own web-space, one long web page with everything we highlighted or wrote to a book.

        –It’s not the ’sad’ world portrayed too often, as the focus is still on the author’s book. If a book really moves me I want it in hard copy also. But I don’t see keeping every one I’ve ever read (and will never read again) or having it just displayed in a room for what it says about me.

        Again, Andrys, thank you for sharing such a different and wonderful experience of the Kindle!


        • You are a great editor!

          Thanks very much for understanding so well, Cynthia.

          I certainly will be following the page and after finishing a project I want to find your entry on your own disappointment with reading via the Kindle. I can understand that pretty well, despite my own reactions.

          – Andrys


  7. I pulled three books off the shelf this morning, and they are sitting next to me, right now. Flannery O’Connor’s ‘The Complete Stories,’ ‘To Kill A Mockingbird,’ and ‘Of Human Bondage,’ by Somerset Maugham.
    I love the generosity of spirit and the open mind of Barb’s comment; but I also sympathize completely with those who are sad about the possible demise of the paper and ink book. It is true, humans are amazingly adaptable creatures–and we, inevitably, find a way to embrace and appreciate our environment and the changes therein. A healthy characteristic, and one that has allowed us to survive and to evolve.
    But, sheesh! I can’t imagine a world in which I haven’t scotch-taped the worn cover of Maugham back together, where I can’t stuff the loose pages back between the peacock feather covers of O’Connor; where I can’t thumb through the dog-eared pages of To Kill A Mockingbird, looking for that morsel of narration I so desperately want to recall.
    The thought of a Kindle is not so much disturbing as it is disorienting.
    The world is disorienting enough as it is. A paper book–just a little warped at the edges–held above my steaming knees while reclining in a deep tub is a comfort I’m just not ready to give up. Nor is holding said book on my lap– or on the couch, in my car; in the airport.
    Call me obstinate, but I’m dug in.


    • I love those details: scotch-taped covers, loose pages, reading in the bathtub. Oh yes. We will not give in.

      I’ve been having this discussion in other places as well, and someone suggested that we can always go underground and make books ourselves. Which is true. I just ordered and received a beautiful hand sewn fiction chapbook by Seven Kitchens Press.


  8. I happened to be reading here because this blog was on a list of Kindle reading today.

    But I was stopped by the mention of Tapestry and the picture. I remember vividly walking downtown and hearing some sounds coming out of a record shop (remember those?) and as I entered, the sounds were clearer and somehow ‘new’ back then and I thought, “Who is that?” and bought the album on the spot.

    I still go into CD shops and places selling used LPs and I love relaxing at Barnes and Noble and smaller stores and will try to buy something small as an appreciation for the space and the different experience that provides.

    If I love an mp3 or an e-book, to an unusual extent, I’ll want the hard copy too. That leaves me somewhat better off than when I kept books just to keep them…

    Since I’m travel and photo-oriented, nothing electronic can replace that…

    As for photo albums, I do take the time to manually process the pics and put them into galleries at pbase. But I guess we save paper and reduce chemicals in the air. Still, as with the other media, I want large copies to frame if I really love one…

    Thanks for the good read.

    – Andrys (most definitely a Kindler despite the above)


    • Hi Andrys, you said the blog was on a list of Kindle reading. So are you actually reading it on your Kindle? Were you able to comment from the Kindle? I’ve been disappointed with how it looks there because all the formatting does not show up. Any thoughts on this?

      I remember where I was too when I first heard “I feel the earth move” and “You’ve got a Friend.” It was in Vermont, the summer of 1970. The first thing I did when I got home was buy that album and James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James. I had a record player then that played albums one at a time.

      I do agree that it would be nice if my book collection was smaller, if I knew that every book on my shelves was one I would want to read again. So reading e-books first and then buying the hard copy is a nice screening process.

      Did it take you any time to get used to reading on the Kindle? I do love its portability, but it’s not the same to me. You might be interested in taking a look at my post on my first experience reading a novel on the Kindle.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. Hope to hear back from you!


      • Cinthia,
        First, I really enjoy your writing for the blog.

        I CAN read the blog on my Kindle and did so after you asked about the formatting.
        Apparently there are very advanced javascript layout options on your page or template, and so the Kindle browser doesn’t interpret link placements or the basic design correctly. This happens with even Firefox on the computer when on the Chicago Sun-Times page.

        My Kindle page is on Blogger, or Blogspot and they do something with the CSS on their pages that does conform to standard modes so that the right column does show up correctly even in a simple browser. I now have a DX as well as it is much better for viewing webpages than the Kindle 2 though i can ‘get around’ on it pretty well. I have Tips for web browsing with it but I don’t think the writers here would have any use for it :-).

        Yes, I’m able to comment from the Kindle and in fact can read and write to forums and even bought the DX with my Kindle 2, accessing gmail for some info while doing so — all because my area Comcast cable network went down one night. So I decided to use the Kindle 2 for web activity. Slow as it is, it does the trick. 24/7 free wireless when outside the house and away from my computers is no small thing for me, but then I am into the Web.

        I ALSO bought James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James at the time I heard King! I still have both LPs.
        Treasures. I was surprised to hear King quite often on radio stations last year – it must have been some kind of celebration revival.

        I still stay away from multi-disc CD players, as I think it’s scary that we are encouraged to not ever have to “get up” and change something 🙂
        Also, the simpler the player, the less problems there’ll be, as a rule.

        I’ll take a look at your first post on reading with a Kindle. I guess a search will bring it up. In my case, it took no time at all. In the case of a friend of mine who always has had to have a book with her everywhere she goes and who loves the feel and look of books, she had no problem either, strangely enough, and is never without her Kindle now. Loves it.

        – Andrys


  9. I am jealous of your Kindle Reader. I just got back from England where I read the 5 books I brought with me and bought 5 more (2 only available in England). My back hurt for days. I still love owning real books and browsing in bookstore, but maybe for travel….


      • 🙂 It’s the real thing. The real thing, being the words.

        I just had to say that, of course 🙂 Sarah, my last trips (Italy and Turkey) were with real books. Ouch. Glad your back pain is over.

        – A


        • Thanks for reminding us that the words on the Kindle are the same words written by the author, and that the words are the real thing–not the design of the book, the quality of the paper or the cover. : )


  10. My mother had a simple solution for “Breaking in” her books. She broke the spine. I let her look at one of my books to read a funny paragraph. I’d spent the whole morning with it cracked open just an inch so it could gradually get used to the idea of it being opened. She grabbed both sides and pulllllleeed until it went *CRACK*

    “Ok, where’s this funny…why are you crying?”

    I don’t think the kindle will replace books. I do think the kindle will be the storage space for all untried and midlist books. The ones we treasure and truly love…those will still be purchased in book form.

    Great example: “Sympathy for the Devil” is available online for free at the Baen Library ( )

    I read it there first, I read it again. Then I bought the book. Of course it is free and I can read it on a screen any time I want to but it just isn’t the same. Books are important. Screens can only do so much.


    • Reading a book on a screen isn’t the same, is it? And I love your last two sentences: “Books are important. Screens can only do so much.”
      Thanks for your comment!


  11. All of these are very compelling discussions on the pros/cons of e-reading. I believe that Andrys drives it home for me though:

    Writing a story is an art form unto itself. From the choice of font type and size, format of the story (will it be a trade paperback, hardcover, etc.?), the way the words appear on the page. These are all factors that go into the experience of reading the story itself. e-Readers seem to homogenize that experience, making every book and story look exactly the same. So it comes down to what packaging one prefers.

    As one who has been pondering a Kindle purchase recently, I believe I will stay with physical books for awhile longer, as it’s the TOTAL EXPERIENCE I’m seeking when I select a book to read. I don’t want to lose the tactile sensations in favor of more storage or convenience. Not yet, anyway.

    Thanks for a great topic!


    • Thanks, Christian. I agree about all the factors that go into the reading experience. They are very important to me too. Perhaps more so than I even realized.

      Yet it’s also true that so many of those factors (font, cover, paperback or hardback) are out of the author’s hands so in my mind are not intrinsically linked to the author’s vision.

      As Andrys pointed out, words are words. So since I already have a Kindle, I’m going to try to take a “middle ground” approach–something that is extremely rare for me and that hardly ever works. Nevertheless, my first step is going to try to learn to love the Kindle for travel.

      If I can master that, then I may try to move on to trying books out on the Kindle and then purchasing the ones I want to keep in their paper version.

      As many of you know, my first experience of reading on the Kindle did not go well. But I’m not giving up yet.


      • I also agree that words are just words. I guess what I’m getting at is the entire experience of reading a book. The smell, the feel, the way the words appear on the page….

        Those things don’t change the actual words or their meanings, but they do increase the overall experience for me. However, I will continue to watch and learn. I believe that there are better ways coming our direction. Thanks for letting me comment!


      • Cynthia,
        Don’t take any ground at all. Just approach it and see how it feels =for you= since our associations with what we love about books go back a long time and have a lot to do with our memories of the experiences that went with them, from childhood, and we don’t want to lose that.

        I still love looking at a particular ‘hard’copy or paperback book in my home when passing by it (knowing I have more to read before ever reading it again). And it’s one reason I might buy the more solid ‘copy’ of the words when I love the writing.

        And don’t try to learn to love the Kindle for anything, not travel, not for waiting in lines.

        The first thing that came to my mind was the Luv Guv of SC telling all who might still be listening that he’ll TRY to “fall back in love with my wife.”

        Sure failure. Working against all our natural impulses and responses We can’t “try to learn to love” anything that’s just not natural to us, that doesn’t draw us. Maybe you will find it a useful companion when travelling , but I think that would be it. Don’t expect anything out of it. Just, when you are stuck with it, read it if you feel like reading. I think this is the best we can expect.

        It’s my own thing that the externals don’t mean much to me except that I often love them too.

        For me, they’re not from the author but from the people who package the author’s thoughts. Sometimes they do right by the author, with the packaging reflecting something of the core of what the author wants communicated. But, sometimes not.

        For many, an e-reader will always feel sterile because of associations we have with the materials and because the holder is hard, almost metallic, or plastic , not bending. Not unlike the frame of a window. That’s how I view it, but others want to view the physical book itself as well.

        I just finished reading a very short book on the dreaded ‘unit’ by someone writing about trying to kick an Internet habit. I loved it; it made me laugh a lot and also think a lot, because of what was said in it. The magic is usually in the words but the special qualities how they words are presented can definitely enhance them.

        I wonder how a blind person feels when hearing a book. Would feeling or smelling the book be as helpful in appreciating what’s heard? Would they miss a lot? The presentation again can be important.


        • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Andrys. Points well made.

          I had to laugh when you referred to the “dreaded unit.”

          I’m going a short trip next week and will take my friend, Mr. Kindle, along for the ride. No pressure. I’ll report back on our friendship.


  12. Interesting article from the 7.19.09 NYT The Way We Live Now section, “The Shuffle President.”

    The article talks about the difference in the way we listen today. No longer do we listen to cohesive albums but instead to songs shuffled on the ipod. There are “a lot of younger voters who could never be expected to listen to successive tracks, in the same order, over and over again.”

    It also adds: “Random play may popularize your music in the aggregate, but it doesn’t foster the same kind of investment in the songs themselves.”


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