Before the invention of written language we had oral storytelling. It was direct, intimate and allowed for the additional benefit of passing on the principles, morals and ideals contained within a family or society. Values were imbedded in the stories that were told, and how they were told. Oral storytelling allowed for further dialogue and discussion leading to a deeper understanding of the intent of the verbal author. Indigenous peoples historically have valued their storytellers as the most important members of their community. They were, after all, responsible for the continuation of their culture and all it represents.
Through the evolution of language into a visual form (the symbols, alphabet, words, paintings) I am sure there was much distress over the concern that visual, non-verbal communication would be the end of culture and society and they knew it. It removed the human interaction, it removed the content control. It was a change to a “one static story fits all.” If I accept the idea that I am an old soul who has reincarnated through various periods in history (and let’s face it, people who ask the questions I ask, and ponder the thoughts I ponder, aren’t new souls) I can literally picture myself using that storyteller voice to rather loudly and vehemently protest the use of visual symbols to tell a tale.
Here we are in the 21st century facing yet another change in communication and how we tell our stories…the great “digital” and e-publishing transition. When e-books were introduced I was appalled! Nothing could ever replace the feel of the paper pages, the still faint smell of the ink on the newly printed page, the tangible tactile experience of turning the page and the sense of accomplishment as the part of the book in the left hand becomes heavier than the story elements yet to come in the right hand.
My “favorite things” list includes books. I love to fill book shelves with my paper treasurers. Some are little books with a single illustrated poem. Some are huge coffee table art books filled with paintings and photographs that inspire me. They become a symbol in themselves. They tell a story of who I am, what I value and what I believe. If someone were to come into my home and peruse my book shelves they would be able to easily identify what defines me. That analysis may even include my set of Harry Potter books. I purchase the first two while visiting Dublin. I quickly found out that the American and British publications were visually very different, had some minor differences in vocabulary and in the case of the first book, bear a different title. You would find that I am a person who cannot “mess up the set” and ordered each successive Harry Potter book from Amazon.com.uk to be sure they “matched.”
I read an entry from a fellow blogger the other day who was packing for a trip. She is an avid reader who was literally removing clothes from her suitcase to be replaced with more books because she couldn’t decide what she was going to want to read while she was away (A problem I can certainly identify with). Traveling in this day and age on an airline with half of your personal library will be costly.
One of my other “favorite things” used to be to spend an afternoon in a book store looking through the tables and shelves to examine what was new and different in print. What’s been published lately that speaks to me? I would take a pile to the café (a new concept in itself in the past 20 years), and get a cup of coffee (and if I am looking for a really multi-sensory experience a piece of pound cake or cheesecake to “go with.”). I would spend hours handling the books, looking through the books and giving them my “stop at 3 random sections of the book, read a paragraph to see if it speaks to me” test. From there I would begin to sort into the must read now, I’ll get around to it, I don’t think so, and no way piles. The last pile has often been psychically thrown into the universe as a title my book group will surely pick. Quite often I have later been surprised by those books.
So, if books are digital, what will happen to my book store afternoons? I have already had to forgo those leisurely afternoons. The inventory in book stores is dwindling. It is not a good time to be a book store owner, independent or chain. If I can’t physically peruse the volumes, I fear I am missing those kismet afternoons when I find a book I wasn’t looking for winds up in my hands and answers questions I didn’t know I needed answered. What will happen to those afternoons as we progress into the age of digital storytelling?
I have a Kindle. I love my Kindle. I bought my Kindle for a very practical reason…with the click of a button I can make the font size as big or small as I want. The better we get to know each other, the tighter the bond. I love it because I don’t have to labor over how many books I have room to pack…my entire library now weighs 7 ounces. I guess I will need to embrace and be grateful for the advances of publishing in the 21st century while I ponder the list of circumstances whose loss I am grieving. Perhaps my contribution can be to find a way to embrace the future without giving up what I love from “the way things were.”