Tuesday, October 5, 2010


The magician reaches into his shiny top hat and produces a rabbit. Or a dove that soars to the rafters as we watch his flight.

I reach into my smallish handbag and produce a flat rectangle, very slim, lighter in weight than some letters I've written and a few I've received (the latter on eight or ten pages of yellow lined tablet paper).

It has no wheels, no wires, no tubes. No hidden recesses, no pockets. It's as far from anything Rube Goldberg would devise as Linda Hunt is from Andre the Giant.

Mark Twain turned down a chance to invest in the earliest telephone because he couldn't imagine that anyone besides himself and his lawyer would ever use the gimmick. But Twain poured thousands and thousands of dollars into the Paige Linotype Compositor, which he believed would make him the richest man in America--if Paige ever got his invention to work just right. But Paige never did, and Twain, who was quite rich when he began shoveling money into Paige's coffers, went bankrupt. (He paid back his creditors, dollar for dollar, working an unbelievable round-the-world speaking tour that took years. ) Less complex linotype machines, however, made possible the Information Age, churning out millions upon millions of printed books and newspapers, until the 1970's and 1980's, when computerized printing replaced the machines.

I wonder what Mark Twain would think of the magic gismo in my purse. The Paige Compositor had 18,000 extremely noisy moving parts. The gismo has a very small switch, an under-sized keypad, and a tiny finger of a latch that keeps the gismo in its leather jacket. That's it. At least that's all the moving parts I can see, or hear.

But I flick a finger, and there is Pride and Prejudice, all of it, for me to read. There also is all of Marcel Proust's mighty giant, which I can read lying on my back in bed, the gismo in one hand. And quietly at my service is the entire Oxford Dictionary. And the wondrously written novel Atonement, which I couldn't wait to read after I had seen the award-winning film version. So I didn't. Wait, that is. I flicked an impatient finger, and there was the complete novel, before mine eyes.

Doves and rabbits indeed.

1 comment:

Emily said...

GASP! You have a KINDLE??
This must be a portent of something. Maybe I should lay in a few more 5-gallon tubs of wheat, dried beans, powdered milk, canned potatoes, venison jerky and ammo to the emergency Millenium shelter.

Or maybe it's just a portent of my envy. They look like such wonderful devices - enjoy!!