Sunday, June 6, 2010

Goodbye internet

The Massachusetts sage and political street fighter Tip O'Neall
famously said that all politics is local. Rumi, the Persian poet,
wrote that when you are everywhere, you are nowhere and that when you
are somewhere, you are everywhere. I suppose that means I'm nowhere.
But I wonder if that's such a terrible thing.

The Kindle has had a surprising effect on me. I no longer read blogs,
or surf the internet for fun, or watch TV. And I've quit reading paper
books. Instead, I am reading a biography and a novel every week and I
am subscribed to, and read every day, the Washington Post, the New
York Times, La Stampa, Frankfurter Allgemeine, El Universal (a Mexican paper), El
Pais, O Globo (my favorite Brazilian papers aren't available, but I'm
finding plenty to keep me interested in O Globo), and Le Monde. I may
be nowhere, but I am learning quite a bit about several places I find
captivating. From O Globo, I've learned this past week that leprosy is
still a widespread disease in Brazil. And I've been reminded that
there's lot more to Brazil than Lula's foreign policy. (It never
occurred to me, for instance, that a ten-year-old with Hansen's
disease would tell her classmates that she has an allergy.) In El
Universal I read this week about the death of Anastasio Hernandez,
which was largely ignored by the U.S. press, though he was killed on
American soil, and about the arrest and sordid story of Gregorio
Sanchez Martinez, the mayor of Cancun. From the Frankfurter Allgemeine
I learned something of the biography, and inner demons, of Horst
Köhler, who surprised friends and foes alike by resigning from the
German presidency. In the Washington Post, I've been reading the story
of Sanquan "Bootsy" Carter, his bracelet, and the March 30 Southeast
D.C. shootings, which could be straight out of The Wire. This morning,
I read the story of the Pointe-au-Chien ("Dog Point"), or
Pointe-aux-Chenes ("Point of Oaks"), a French-speaking Indian tribe
who live on the mouth of Mississippi River and are fearing for their
livelihood, which is meager in the best of times, because of the oil
spill. To my surprise, I'm spending more time reading El Universal
than El Pais, not because the former is a better newspaper (it isn't),
but because I'm more interested in Mexico than in Spain. That Brazil
is a civilization unto itself I knew from the years I spent studying
its literature as an undergraduate. I have to force myself to stop
reading stories from Brazil.

So I'm bidding farewell to the internet which, alas, I still need for
work. Reluctantly, because there are only so many hours in a day, I'm
also saying goodbye to a number of blogs I've come to appreciate over
the years: The Language Log, the Language Hat, Frog in a Well, Onze
Taal, Letters of Note, Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish, The Useless Tree,
and a few others. I am aware that some of the best writing these days
is found on blogs, but I'm finding more than enough well-written
articles, news analysis, investigative reporting, and book reviews in
traditional newspapers to keep me riveted without spending time in
front of a computer. I hope to continue, occasionally, to jot down
things of interest I come across in my personal scrapbook:

But the truth is that I no longer enjoy spending time in front of a
computer screen.

I decided to try out a Kindle because e-books are slightly cheaper
than paper books. What I didn't expect was that I would find it easier
and more convenient to read very long books and newspapers, in bed, on
the kitchen table, and on the train on the Kindle.

Why the Kindle is not like a computer screen, and why I am not even
aware I am actually reading e-books, or looking at an electronic
device, I explained in this review:

Yesterday, I read Daniel Everett's Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life
and Language in the Amazonian Jungle, which I would recommend to
anyone interested in linguistics, anthropology, child rearing, and
evangelical Christianity (Everett lost his Christian faith among the
Pirahã's; his wife didn't).