Photo by Bernie Smith, courtesy of Trish and Wayne Modisett.
Cara Ellen Modisett, age 10
The editor, Cara Ellen Modisett, age 10, in tree stump, with her sister Meg, at Natural Chimneys in Mt. Solon, Va. in 1983.
These days, so many people are lamenting the disappearance of handwritten letters and hours-long conversations, overcome by the power of e mail, text messages and IM. Face-to-face relationships have devolved to Facebook "friend"ships. Tangents, analyses and profundities are impossible to communicate in 140-character tweets.
In the publishing world, we fear the loss of pages. More specifically, the loss of paper. The relationships we are afraid of losing are the ones we have with our readers, with our dog-eared books, with our morning newspapers. How can an electronic screen replace the escape of a paperback, warped by sun and salt air or left face-down in an Adirondack chair when we head inside to refill our cup of coffee or glass of iced tea?
So maybe it's ironic, or just odd, to devote my first blog – i.e. digital-based web-log, published in the virtual world of "online," at BlueRidgeCountry.com, not on paper, not in ink – to the celebration of print. But I do believe that pages, the crisp turnable kind, not the glowing internet kind, are important.
A few days ago I went to the library and was appalled at how long it had been since I'd stepped inside one. I love libraries. One of my favorite part-time jobs ever was shelving books at my college library, at James Madison University. I loved the quiet hours in the stacks, pushing a cart around, learning the LOC card catalog system, feeling the spines of books tilt back into my hands, making a space for them between other volumes, reading the titles, from academic to literary, breathing in the smell of paper. I avoided the computer labs that inevitably have become mainstays in libraries, and preferred the small, close rooms of row-after-row of books, four or five levels of them, tucked away behind doors in the very core of the building, with beaten up old study desks and chairs around their perimeters.
I spent a couple hours at a much newer library, and admittedly I wasn't looking up any dusty volumes of forgotten lore – I headed straight for the reference desk and requested a copy of the most recent quarterly Cost of Living Index. But sitting down at a table, turning its thin clutch of pages, taking notes, listening to the near-quiet... I realized a few things.
Paper slows us down. In such a good way. On a computer, scrolling through page after illuminated, blinking, hyperlinked page, we read fast, we skim, we get impatient. With paper, we must read as slow as we can turn the page. The type is smaller. Nothing blinks. There are no links to other pages. There's just ink and paper.
Internet is exciting – there's much more we can write and publish without being restrained by how many pages we can afford to print. I think of all the stories we can fit on a website that we could never fit in a single magazine. There's no limit, at least in terms of space.
But there is a limit, in terms of the reader's experience, in terms of the human experience. Even while I type this blog entry on a laptop, sitting on my couch, checking my e mail for new messages every so often, tweeting a stray thought or two, I look up and this room is filled with my favorite things: old books from my grandparents' farmhouse and little bookstores in London, shelves of music next to the piano, copies of Blue Ridge Country and The New Yorker and The Week. These things cannot be read fast. These things contain notes, marginalia, names, dates. These things carry the history of everyone who's ever turned their pages, slowly.
But I'll embrace this blog anyway – and hope you will come back and read future entries. If you haven't looked already, take a spin around our website – BlueRidgeCountry.com has been completely and beautifully redesigned and restructured, and we're continuing to tweak and add content all the time. You can comment on stories, share them, and talk to us – through the website, and through Facebook and Twitter (and other social networking platforms).
But at least for me, when I turn off my two-or-three-year-old iMac (probably around 110 in computer years), I'll open up a magazine or a book, smell the familiar smell, feel the familiar pages – that's how I like to end my day.
Until the next posting –
Cara Ellen Modisett, Editor, Blue Ridge Country