The way that I compose has become disjointed, disoriented, dysphonic. I used to write long-hand, and I had a gigantic bump on my right middle finger to prove it. My nail there did not grow out the same way as my other nails. This of course, was a reason to chew it off. I wrote so much that I had a permanent cramp in my hand, and now I have a little arthritis in my thumb.
Every essay, every tutorial paper, every seminar paper, every long preceptorial essay was first handwritten on yellow legal pads. It was revised, annotated, rearranged, and then finally typed. My first typewriter was a Brother typewriter that had a teeny tiny screen that held about three pages worth of elite pitch words. If my essay was longer than three pages, it got whacked out three pages at a time. The finality of typing is different from the temporary print button. If I changed a word that was long enough, it would change the layout of the entire page, which would change the layout of the next page, and soon a complete revision was in order. The pages that I saved were saved only in hard copy. There was not enough memory on the Brother to save a paper, let alone a semester’s worth of work. My words were physical, not ephemeral electronic impulses. I could not backspace over them, eradicate my error, correct it, and move on. I had to use an eraser strip, back up over the erroneous word, type over it, whiting it out, and whack out the new word. I found that the organization of my papers was meticulous, diligent, beautiful; I felt myself crafting something, not producing something.
Now, when I write electronically, I find that the quality of my writing is not nearly as exacting as my handwriting. It is easier, however, to manipulate my voice, my tone, my personality. My persona. The person that I am on twitter in 140 characters is not the person that I am on facebook, is not the person that I am in emails, is not the person that I am in person. The distance that we have from each other is vast, here in the world of the gramophone, the film, and the typewriter. What had been a point of direct contact is now a distance away.
The distance between ourselves and the electronic self is immediate and mediate. The face is there, the person is there, the place is there, on the screen in a second’s second. The photograph is not. It is mediated by ones and zeros, by distant servers interconnected and linked with miles of fiber optic cable, wireless data waves, satellite signals. The Library of Congress puts the American Memory Project at our disposal, and we can go back to Truchas, NM, back to Trampas, back to Silver City. Somewhere, an FSA photographer made those photos, and now here they are, for everyone to see, and then forget. Maybe they’ll be part of a MOOC someday.
But they aren’t Aunt Joyce as a baby sitting on Granma’s handlebars in front of the CCC camp in Silver City. They aren’t photographs of that day in Taos with the sun filtering through the trees on the
the lift. They aren’t a bobcat named baby Baby sitting on Granny Hall’s lap. They can’t be handed back and handed down and shoved in a drawer. As the family archivist, my job is to catalog the memories of the family, to organize the photographs in albums and conserve the negatives. I order reprints from Camera and Darkroom, and ask for prints, not digital copies when a cousin requests them. I don’t send out DVDs.
Where are our voices, images, and music going to go without us to conserve them? Who will get a copy of my iTunes catalog? Who will download all of the photos in my computer, that I neglected to save anywhere else? Somehow, we have fooled ourselves into believing this totality of digitization is totality, and it isn’t. Its impermanence is its totality.