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Paper versus Screen Reading

Superficially, today's post doesn't appear to be age-related unless you consider this: that young people, those born – oh, let's say since 1990 or so, are probably more comfortable reading on a screen than you and I.

And, I can't prove this but it could be that they have a different relationship with books and with reading than I do. Maybe they don't have the same reverence for physical books that I grew up with and is still important to me. There is something about leafing through a new book while anticipating some good entertainment or what I might learn that just isn't the same with a book on a screen.

Even so, when Amazon released its first Kindle e-reader in late 2007, I was an enthusiastic early adopter.

Although I regularly used such online services as Project Gutenberg to download electronic version of out-of-copyright books, with them I had been stuck reading on the computer. Kindle allowed me to easily read in bed, lounging on the sofa or anywhere I wanted to be - just like a "real" book.

Further, buying electronic books – less expensive, by the way, than the dead tree variety – allowed me to believe I was helping to save forests and by extension, the planet. I'll get back to that in a moment.

When it was released, I upgraded to the Kindle Fire, a tablet computer combined with e-reader but quickly gave it up; it weighs so much that I feel like I'm trying to hold up half the Encyclopedia Britannica.

It is approaching a decade now that I have been buying and reading e-books but that has been falling off in the past couple of years, probably longer. Mostly these days, the e-books I buy are light entertainment, detective novels for example, and a few others that don't require serious thought.

Not that I stopped buying paper books altogether but I learned to make a distinction that I adhere to more completely now. If it's politics, history, ageing, biography, literary fiction, etc., I purchase hard copies or borrow them from the library. The reasons are almost all about personal convenience. Here are some of them:

I like knowing the size of a book. I have a sense of my time commitment when I see that it is two inches thick. Six hundred electronic pages doesn't mean much to me especially when a larger font will increase the count to 800 pages and smaller one reduce it to 400.

If I want to check something earlier in a book, I usually have a sense, with paper, of how far back it is or which chapter it is in and whether it's on the left or right page. That's not possible on a screen.

Also, I can't use a finger or two to hold my places in an electronic book while I check a fact or thought or idea elsewhere among the pages.

A book, as long as it's not too thick, rests comfortably in the hand. The thin Kindle, in its way, is as hard to hold as the Fire and my hand begins to ache after 15 or 20 minutes.

I mark up and highlight books I own as I read. Yes, I know there is a highlight function in e-readers, but it is not anywhere near as convenient to use nor as satisfying as wielding that wide, yellow Sharpie.

And when I'm done, I like placing a book I've finished among its kind on the shelf. When I pull one off a month later or even a year, I have a sense, skimming through the pages, of what markings I want to read again.

Other times, especially when many years have passed, I'm surprised at what is highlighted, what I thought was important then compared to now. It's a way, sometimes, of measuring how my thinking has changed over time.

I like having my books around me. I like going through them. Just a couple of weeks ago, I pulled the entire library of several hundred books about ageing out of their shelves to dust and reorder the mess I'd made of their organization over the past several years.

It was satisfying (and useful) beyond the tidiness factor. As I touched each one, I was reminded of what I like about it (or not), what I learned, what I might want to re-read. My books are my friends.

As I have returned to reading more paper books than electronic; and despite so many email signatures admonishing me not to print this message; and even with the exorbitant price of ink, I have also been printing more online information to read on paper. It's just easier, especially if it is longer than few paragraphs. Most of the book reasons above apply too and I'm not sure but I think my eyes don't tire as quickly.

While I was considering all this recently, I ran across a LinkedIn post from Jeneane Sessum, a smart women I used to kind of know online and have not been in touch with for a long time. It's titled, Let There be Print, and she has had some similar feelings:

”I have experienced a renewed urge in the last week to print things out, literally. Pretty much anything. Health information, college ideas for our daughter, pictures form old year books accessible online, and photos of our aging boxer Bando,” she writes.

Jeneane also clarifies the environmental questions about paper and printing for me:

”...this transition from physical to digital exhaust has certainly not solved the planet's sustainability challenges. The energy demands of computing give rise to new problems that require further innovation.

“Simply put: We won't solve climate change simply by bypassing the print process. In contrary, continuing to build the physical world in ways that connect us to future generations is by definition good stewardship.”

While my reasons for returning to print – in books and online – are personal and related to my comfort, you can tell from that last phrase that Jeneane has larger, more universal and important concerns about losing both our private and our world heritage to future digital technology that will not be able to read the encoding of current storage media.

”Don't abandon what is of value to your family, your intellect, your heart or your soul to the digital domain,” she pleads. “That's where printing comes in. It's what we can do for now, for ourselves and our families, and maybe for future generations and civilizations...

“We have a chance at a new beginning in this digital 'middle of things,' an opportunity to not let go of what we have created and will create, a chance to remain caretakers of what is of real value to this world, and a responsibility to preserve our humanity.”

She's right, you know. As elders, we who recall, probably more than the youngest generation can, the value – and pleasure - of hard copies should heed Jeneane's call to action.

Also, maybe even Amazon, inventor of the Kindle, has had an inkling that people are not letting paper books go anywhere. This week in Seattle the company opened its first retail book store:


You will find Jeneane Sessum's full story here and it is worth the read.

Is This an Uncharted Lapse of Old Age?

A few days ago, 69-year-old Richard Lombard told me that as he left his home on a foggy Sunday morning, he wondered for a moment why the construction across the way was wrapped in Tylenol.

Of course the name on the wrap was the well-known Tyvek but his brain had briefly substituted a brand of acetaminophen. Richard theorized that the heavy fog and having just wakened from a confusing dream caused the glitch but I'm not so sure.

My reason is that my brain has been substituting similar-looking, unrelated, words for what's really there fairly frequently for several years.

It happens to me a lot when I'm reading but also when I'm writing so I've learned to be extra careful with blog posts and emails.

I catch such errors (when I do; it's not a hundred percent) because the context is usually as weird (and, sometimes, funny) as Richard's Tylenol/Tyvek. A house wrapped in a lot of little white pills is an image not easily ignored.

LATER INSERT: In the second paragraph above, I initially typed the phrase “heavy fork” instead of “heavy fog.” I didn't catch it until about the third read-through and it can't be dismissed as a simple typo. God, tog, jog, hog, fob, among others, are plausible typos in that instance. With “fork” something else is at work.

What I know in a lifetime of writing for a living is that this kind of mistake didn't happen in my youth and middle years. It's new-ish, a couple of years, maybe three or four.

Sometimes I wonder if it is related to the problem of opposites I have dealt with all my life - things involving black/white, yes/no, up/down, left/right. A real-life example:

At my last job, I was a member of a committee of six or seven people, each representing a different department or area of expertise, assigned to research and decide if we should move forward with a several million dollar project.

Many months of work later, we met to make our decision. After final presentations and discussion, the vote was taken and when I returned to my desk, I couldn't recall if it was yes or no.

This wasn't new to me. It's not uncommon that I can't remember the choice even two or three minutes after the fact. As a result I am a prodigious note-taker.

What I am not, however, is a psychologist, a neurologist, a specialist in linguistics or any other kind of expert in the behavior and pathology of the brain. I am so ignorant of these disciplines that I have no business doubting that Richard's Tylenol/Tyvek language lapse is related, as he guesses, to fog or dreams.

Still, I think there may be something more or different to it.

Growing old is time consuming. Just when we arrive at a period in our lives when we haven't all that much time left, our minds and bodies conspire to eat up way too much of that time. Our movement slows, we tire more easily and our brains slow down leaving us staring mutely into space over a name or simple little word we've known all our lives.

Doesn't seem fair, does it, adding yet another thing to the list that steals time from us – although it is fair to say that it's hardly a big deal in life; just interesting, a small puzzle.

It wouldn't take too much proof to convince me that these word substitutions are unrelated to age, that they are nothing more than carelessness or reading too quickly. But it doesn't quite feel like that to me.

Does any of this click with readers out there?

ELDER MUSIC: Songs About Cities: San Francisco

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

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That's one of my own photos.

San Francisco is the first city I visited outside Australia – that was in 1970. It may be because of that that I feel completely at home whenever I visit it, which is as often as I can.

I love this city as much as I love Melbourne (although we have better restaurants and coffee in Melbourne). After that statement, assured to get the residents of The City offside, let's go with the music.

San Francisco Bay Blues was written by Jesse Fuller. I could have used Jesse's version or any one of hundreds who have recorded the song (well, I may not have hundreds, but I've got quite a few). Out of all the possibilities I've chosen RICHIE HAVENS.

Richie Havens

It's one I really like and it's taken from his debut album "Mixed Bag," a record certainly worth searching out.

♫ Richie Havens - San Francisco Bay Blues

VIKKI CARR's song starts out as if it's going to turn into the famous song by Tony Bennett. Instead, it turns into another quite famous song.

Vikki Carr

She slows it down a lot which I think improves it. The song is simply called San Francisco.

♫ Vikki Carr - San Francisco

It's amazing what you find in your music collection when you do a search for something. Well, that's the case for me anyway. I hadn't realized that MARTY ROBBINS had performed a San Francisco song. Just goes to show.

Marty Robbins

It's not really clear why Marty's companion is leaving San Francisco but he's not too happy about it at all. Apparently there are a bunch of others who are similarly unhappy which raises some interesting questions in my mind about said companion.

Whatever, Marty has San Francisco Teardrops.

♫ Marty Robbins - San Francisco Teardrops

PEGGY LEE name checks just about every tourist attraction in the city.

Peggy Lee

That includes her baby painting the Golden Gate Bridge (on his own?). Anyway, Peggy has the San Francisco Blues.

♫ Peggy Lee - San Francisco Blues

American Trilogy would be the most famous work of MICKEY NEWBURY.

Mickey Newbury

However, he only arranged that, he didn't write the various parts. It was still a nice little earner for him thanks to Elvis. The most famous song of his that he wrote would have to be San Francisco Mabel Joy.

His original version gets a bit overwrought at the end with celestial choirs and whatnot. A more pleasing version is this one he performed at the Big Sur Festival back in 1971 with a little help from JOAN BAEZ.

Joan Baez

♫ Mickey Newbury & Joan Baez - San Francisco Mabel Joy

NANCY WILSON seems to suffer from my problem.

Nancy Wilson

Well, maybe a slight exaggeration. I notice that Nancy isn't the only one who has performed this song, but it's her version I like the best. I'm Always Drunk in San Francisco.

♫ Nancy Wilson - I'm Always Drunk in San Francisco (And I Don't Drink At All)

The next song starts out sounding as if it's a song about New York. It also sounds as if it's going to be someone else singing rather than MEL TORMÉ.

Mel Torme

However, things quickly settle down and Mel takes us on a tour of all the various tourist attractions of the city. The song is Got The Gate On The Golden Gate.

♫ Mel Tormé - Got The Gate On The Golden Gate

VAN MORRISON produced five of the finest albums of the rock & roll era in a row, a feat even The Band and The Beatles couldn't manage.

Van Morrison

Saint Dominic's Preview was the last of these and the title song is about San Francisco. Saint Dominic's is a church at Bush and Steiner and there are many other subtle references to the city in the song. Other places are mentioned as well, but we'll ignore them.

♫ Van Morrison - Saint Dominic's Preview

You knew this one had to be present so I won't disappoint you (unless you don't like the song, of course). All I need to say is TONY BENNETT.

Tony Bennett

Well, not quite all, I have to add I Left My Heart in San Francisco.

♫ Tony Bennett - I Left My Heart In San Francisco

The writer JACK KEROUAC made a couple of albums where he recited his prose or poems to a jazz backing. The most famous of these is one he made with Steve Allen playing piano, which Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, has and it's rather interesting.

Jack Kerouac

What I have today isn't from that album. In this case, it's Jack performing San Francisco backed by Miles Davis performing Flamenco Sketches from his great album "Kind of Blue.” This could almost be called spoken jazz.

♫ Jack Kerouac - San Francisco

I hope you appreciate that I resisted the temptation of including Starship's We Built This City.