Print and mortality

Print media increasingly provokes a disturbing feeling of mortality. The definitive beginning and end of a book has the most obvious implication. By print media I mean words on “dead” trees. This type of media is increasingly seen as antiquated. Books are still acceptable aesthetically but only if presented in a way that implies high levels of cognitive vitality. Reading challenging material like a serious book taxes the brain in a way that no other media does. In that way serious reading reminds you of your own corporeality and its limitations. Other media are indulged in to provoke a superficial feeling of “living” without limitation. Your smartphone is alive in your hand and the scroll, stream and possibilities are endless. Media consumers conjure up “life” as in friends and lovers via podcasts, social media, video games, and adult content. They “binge” and gorge themselves within a fantasy universe of consumption in which there is no beginning and no end. If you try and turn from this frenzy of consumption to read a book the world has to “stop.” This “stop” is more liable than other moments to be a concrete marker in time separate from the infinite array of interchangeable moments contemporary electronic media produce. The “stop” can be greatly attenuated if you read books on screen rather than on the page. Smartphones provoke a “god complex” in that they mediate your capacity to make food appear at the press of a button along with the already noted friends and lovers. If the friends and lovers prove unfortunately ephemeral you can definitely make the food appear in any event, to compensate. Not all gods are immortal but it’s a safer bet. Hosts of podcasts and people on social media are alive, you can confirm it in real time any number of ways. When someone who is big on social media dies they simply fall away. The crushing, “crowding” and “swarming” inherent to the current moment fill any void. Authors are more likely to be dead. It’s harder to pretend you’re friends with a dead person and antisocial. Being the ultimate distraction, smartphones help avoid spontaneous encounters with different kinds of people, one of the main things that can provoke a consideration of mortality. The mania of activity that colours the current media context recalls a stereotype of childhood and adolescence. Audiobooks are increasingly marketed emphasizing “social” and active qualities. Someone alive is reading you the book and you can consume it while moving around. Books are heavy material and tie you to a particular place. When tied to a particular place you are more mortal in narrative terms.

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