Whether we’re growing up or catching up in the digital age, most of us have at least a few ounces of trepidation (or a modicum of snobbery) when it comes to the printed word up against its electronic counterpart on a computer (insert iPad, iPod, Kindle) screen. Ambivalence about new technologies and modes of expression prevails, even among writers. Author Kelcey Parker talks about the relationship between her writing and technology in an interview in the new online literary magazine, Talking Writing to which I’ve just subscribed: “I’m particularly drawn in by the tensions between the book as object, as a primitive reading machine, and the transition to digital reading machines.” Kelcey teaches university classes in making books by hand to “exploit these tensions.”
As a long-time photographer and media geek, I’ve always been a “gadget girl.” I love any (preferably small) electronic device that will record or play images and sound, produce documents, do my accounting, or mix margaritas. Technology is fun, and keeping up with it makes me feel a part of this world, today’s world. Not only am I fascinated by new ways of doing things, I don’t want to get left behind. The downside is that it can all be overwhelming, and somehow take us away from what is “real.” It can somehow be lacking in the tactile, the sensual, the scent-ual.
I know from photography that most arts have a scientific aspect: Not only is the photographer concerned with capturing images and expressing ideas, but she also has to worry about balancing f-stops and shutter speeds, understanding the interplay between time, light, and distance. Photographers used to have to know something about chemistry as well, and now, about the digital counterparts to old-school capture and processing.
But it is mastering the science of photography that sets the artist free to express, with intention, what she sees and cares about sharing. I think of blogging the same way. To understand the options available for how your blog appears online, what widgets and plug-ins might help drive activity to your site or connect you with your intended reader, to understand RSS and be able to follow other bloggers, or know how to organize your site for ease of navigation, all serve to enhance your content. If the medium is the message, then form is as important as function.
Technical knowhow can help us achieve a blending of form and function, bringing depth and soul to digital media. The most appealing blogs: A, have something worthwhile to say; B, are easy to navigate your way to around; C, are beautiful to look at; and D, mix concept and content in a seamless, conceptual whole: the nearest equivalent to a well-crafted book.
Yes, I love technology and the cool brilliance of gadgets, but I also love the crisp hand of paper, the friendly weight and weft of a book. There’s something about the cellulose in the pages, the gesture of typography, the tiny, colorful headband at edge of the spine, the endpapers, the ink – that match the warmth and depth of a book’s contents.
If I could, I would bring the bite of a paper page into my blog, the richness of a silver print onto my screen, and something scented and worn like a generation-old leather-bound book into my writing.