Saturday, July 28, 2012

Bookworm in a Kindle [A Short Story]

He messily clicked through the pages of the book. He was desperately trying to find the passage he had highlighted. He didn't wish to use the Clippings to find all his notes. All he wanted was to reach to that one marked passage, to invoke that one idea which he wanted to think on. "Damn this button, why can't you go any faster?" he clicked the button harder in anger hoping it could miraculously skip several pages just to satisfy his urgency, but the device was only capable of going at a page per second.

He realized with any more force, the button might come off & he won't be able to read on the device again. He took a giant gulp of breath, pursed his lips and exhaled emphatically through his nostrils. He tried to calm himself down. Instead he began to think about that passage, to recollect the exact words while still clicking slowly & laboriously through the pages. He couldn't focus, his mind started to wander into an ancient memory. He remembered how easy it would have been to just flip the pages of a paperback & reach the page in less than half the time. No clicking, no tapping, just a flurr of paper. He completely lost track of the thought & limply slumped in his arm chair unable to console his urge. 

He was tired of searching & his mind started to drift. He closed his eyes, rested his temple against the back of the chair & forgot that he even held the device. He imagined his old shelf, the neat row of books, arranged by height. The books had an inviting gaze. They pulled him across the room to pick up a book he had long wanted to read. He remembered the coffee stains on the cover of his favourite novel when he had accidentally kept his mug on it. He smiled through the corner of his eyes when he remembered that dank smell which came from the shelf in the rains. He remembered the rummaging of a pile of books at the public library to find an article mentioned in an old book. That moment seemed like the fate of the world depended on it. He could have just googled it, but it would lack the anticipation, the sense of urgency, the kinaesthetic pleasure of using his hands to find something. It would just be functional, unemotional & useful to use a computer.

As his eyes slowly shut, his imagination flew him to the scrolls from the library of Alexandria. He imagined how they would have been inked. They wouldn't last the test of time & termites, but they would enrich the life of some thinker who looked through them to process his thoughts a little better. He would know something more about the world which he didn't know before. He would hold the delicate parchment in between his fingertips as if lifting a feather without ruffling it. Although the rest of the world would be oblivious to the importance of those scrolls, they would be made aware of its significance centuries later. That's when books went public.

The moveable type would bring the magic of the library of Alexandria into a common man's shelf. The printing press would become the bastion of information, spreading ideas with every rhythmic clank of its gears. Behind his closed eyes he could now see how a lonely child would sneak under his bed in the middle of the night with the cover pulled over his head & a torch light glaring on the pages of his favourite comic book. He could see a young woman with only a single book keeping her company in her moment of solitude giving her hope & strength. She has no need to carry a hundred books along with her, in a device just to not know which one she could lean on to provide her the most support. The confusion, the intermittence of reading too many books together & not ruminating on any of them, is the bane of this technological evolution. Have we evolved so quickly to accept the need for a faster processing ability? Has the human mind evolved to such a degree to understand how to weigh the ideas strung together by a chain of several hundred books at once?

He watched his thought process spring from user interface to form & functionality & ultimately hatred of the new book reading technology. He wanted to read not only to fulfill his over powering sense of curiosity but also to test the limits of his own ideas. He would be amazed to find an idea in some obscure book about something he knew, but had never felt the desire to think in those terms before. He would get totally lost into an idea from a single book & weeks later emerge from it like a miner emerges out of a coal mine at the end of his shift. He would be smeared all over with a thought which was not his own but he nevertheless had excavated through it. The pleasure of burrowing deeper & deeper into an idea was extremely compelling to him. 

The fall of the singular idea, into a pool of unconnected phrases made him feel trapped, yet very powerful. It gave an illusion of knowing more but in reality understanding very little. With the ability to carry so many books with him at once, he at first let the technology goad him into believing that not one, but many ideas could travel with him & he would be free from the tyranny of the shelf. The shelf would lose its monopoly & become an ancient artifact in his home. It would only exist for the pleasure of an occasional visitor to figure out the past indulgences of the owner of those books. With his new device he believed he had the ultimate power to unleash his mental capability to think on several ideas at once & not limit his mind to the ideas of a single book.

It worked beautifully until one fine day he couldn't find that one idea he wanted so desperately to think about. Now the idea seemed distant & had vaporized. He felt lost in a room full of mirrors with all those surplus ideas staring at him from different angles. He couldn't locate them in reality. They were merely reflections of the ideas he had crammed into his skull by abusing his faculty to concentrate on too many at a time. They lacked form, they lacked the meat.

He opened his eyes to find the device still resting in the grip of his right hand. His finger tips were sweaty & it left a small moist patch where it came in contact with the plastic. He changed the grip to his left hand & saw something wiggle across the screen. It wiggled & moved briskly to another corner of the device & seemed to have hidden at the back. He gave a full smile when he realized what he had witnessed just now. A bookworm somehow found its way to the device & was trapped under his grip while he was day dreaming. It was released when the device changed hands & wiggled across the screen to hide under the grip of his other hand.

He felt a warm satisfaction, like a gulp of warm milk rushing down his throat, from the thought that not everything had changed. No matter how much the technology of reading evolved, an occasional bookworm will still find its way to a digital shelf to chew on a few bytes.


Shrutika Kalbag said...

Nice!Very well written!

It would be great if you used a more readable font..This font is readable but not as good as a few other fonts that aids reading fluidly.
P.S. I recommend Droid Sans

Raunak Onkar said...

Thanks Shrutika.

The day I decide to change the fonts on my blog, eh?

Well, I have amended, looks great. Thanks for that. I am hopeless when it comes to identifying good sans serif fonts.


Priyank said...

Hi Raunak,

Until I tried reading a book on the computer, I didn't know that the part of reading a book I enjoyed the most was the experience of feeling the book, smelling it, flipping through its pages, curling up on a sofa and using quaint things like bookmarks. I like your narration of the struggles of adopting new ways of doing old things. We'll need to reinvent some phrases too "Did you read that book? I hear it's a button-clicking suspense! Absolutely un-switch-off-able!" Yeah that sounds dorky.

Nicely written!
cheers, Priyank