If there is a better definition for “ambivalence” than the feelings aroused by reading about “vooks” (electronic books with interactive video), I don’t know what it could be.
Los Angeles Times reporters Alex Pham and David Sarno write about how iPad-driven vooks make even Intro Chemistry interesting, something that makes me wish they’d existed when I tried, and failed, to like science in my freshman year of high school.
I’m more acquainted with the sentiments expressed by essayist Gary Shteyngart in this week’s New York Times Book Review, in which a vacation outside of cell range forces him to confess misgivings about a Facebooking, tweeting, arrow-driven, iPhoning inner life. The life that used to require only a book and a brain.
Reading a plain old physical (non blinking) book is an act as close to perfection as possible. There is nothing to fix about that experience. Yet I too am hooked on the device that is the gateway drug to vooks: the iPhone.
I am more likely to forget shoes than my iPhone. If I leave it behind by accident, I experience a wave of anxiety similar to that felt when buckling a seatbelt aboard a transcontinental flight, only to remember that the oven is still on.
This makes sense if one works and lives in a world requiring 24/7 connectivity. I do not.
I tap a keyboard most of the time, and almost none of what I write could be called “news” or “timely.” I live with my Best Friend and domestic time is typically spent within an arm’s length of each other. My pre-Best Friend best friend phones across three time zones every two days or so, the norm for much of the 39 years we’ve been acquainted. The generous soul I consider a life-raft girlfriend here in town is, like me, temperamentally suited to short and intense meetings in person. A GPS-enhanced phone I need not.
So, what’s the allure? I think it must be a variation on a behavior I used to observe in my father. An extremely intelligent man with little formal education, he loved reading, reference books and electronic gadgets. The first two because they served as his ongoing college; the latter because mastering the newest technology was a way to have an edge over some smartass who went to Harvard but couldn’t rewire the stereo.
I managed to get the schooling he missed out on, and I’m not worrying much about keeping up with the smartasses anymore, but the iPhone is my hedge against the (many) gaps in my education and my skimpy pop-culture knowledge. And I have something he did not. The aps in my pocket supply me with English and Hebrew dictionaries; medical reference guide; new-music updates; NYTimes, the Constitution; NASA reports, food-safety database; Revised Standard Bible (loaded in anticipation of a dinner with Very Christian friends and found to be quite handy); Latin vocabulary. (Then there’s weather, the ocean-sound maker; police radio, ESPN scores and a running grocery list. A girl’s gotta take a break from thinking now and then.)
I’m holding out against vooks for now, but I suppose they’ll get me in the end.