Friday, May 16, 2008

Travel II 

This isn't the first time I've been homesick for books. The feeling is probably not that simple, because homesickness is so broad, an awareness (longing for?) all that is missing. The right kind of food in the fridge. The chair you always sit in. A full dresser of clothes. And if I don't know the people I'm with too well, an awkwardness and social anxiety that culminates in a desire to be alone and a fear of seeming a bad guest.

The first time I realized I was homesick for books was at a farm and a family reunion for my husband's extended family. I knew very few, and there were people everywhere who knew my name but I didn't know theirs. We had to sleep in tents, because the house was so small. The tent was great for sleeping, but it left a bit to be desired as a room of my own during the day.

So I stayed with the people. There was no Internet. The people were good, though, and understanding of how overwhelming the whole experience could be, even for them. I could sit in a room full of people and read and offend no one by doing so and then talk when I felt like it.

And I could wander the hundreds of acres of woods and farm. There was little around, the only town was such a drive, and since I wasn't 25, I couldn't drive our rented car there. I borrowed a camera. That camera was the only modern technology there, besides basic lighting, a single indoor toilet (there was an out house), and running water (and an outdoor shower) with a washing machine that leaked. Any necessary heat came from a woodburning stove.

Everytime I lifted the camera to my eyes I say the ghostly UFO - a light smudge on the lens. I took pictures of the barn with the UFO hovering in the distance. I watched the kids play Frisbee until the rain started - and then only the adults played.

I looked over at the tent - how were my books? I'd never camped in the rain before. Would the inside of the tent feel damp? Muggy? Bone dry? What color bugs were crawling over my journal and history of the war of 1812? I kept most books in the car, but I couldn't see them there.

The barn wood was getting water-logged, and the wet water line seeped downward, toward the hay and the window ledge with the beer bottles lining the sill like a still life.

The rain made the wood smell like decay, and I missed civilization for this first time in my life. I missed feeling warm. I missed food, what I wanted, when I wanted it. I missed my library. I missed being alone. Is that what civilization means to me - being alone when I want to be?

If I lived there, the house would be different: lined with my books and my papers. I'd feel safer and a more comfortable distance from civilization. I think books define civilization to me.

Civilization is control of your environment and ethical use of that control. So books and the internet, tools (including guns) and telecom gear enable civilization. Ethical use of them defines civilization.
Is there an unethical way to use a book besides beating someone with it?
Books, videos, Internet are all ways to get information. What you do with the info makes the use ethical or unethical. You can use the same compound for safe engineering or bloody murder. Same with skills: knowing max safe dosage of a drug could be use to avoid over-dosing, for euthanasia or for murder.
But surely recording, transmitting, or receiving information is ethical, or at least neutral. Regardless of the information in question.
Sometimes. Me digitizing the contents of the letter you sent and making it searchable wouldn't have been. Walking past your screen and seeing your email instead of looking through it and not seeing would have been unethical also.
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