COLUMN: Turning the e-page

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, Nov. 21, 2010 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune

Turning the e-page
By Aaron J. Brown
One of the joys (terrors!) of raising children in this modern age is explaining old things to these new people without revealing your own waning youth. In this you will fail, just as your parents failed and their parents before them.

Several books and movies in our home collection involve phone booths. How does one break this down? There once was a time without cell phones in which there were phones with cords. Further, these corded phones could be found within glass booths and required coins to make a call. Also, there were such things as coins.

“You had to remember the number, son. It wasn’t in the phone.”

Sometimes it’s best just to start with the concept of booths and let the kids form their own conclusions about what to do inside them.

Phone booths are just one example. I could name more but we don’t need this to come down to the sort of “kids these days” showdown common to area social clubs. I used to type messages on the demonstration typewriters at the Kmart. Remember that? They used to have all sorts of typewriters there in the store. Kids these days. Don’t even know about that.

This time of year, as people consider holiday gifts, my thoughts turn to books. Electronic book readers are one of the “top gifts” this year. I know plenty of people who have adopted these devices, downloading new titles and classics from, Apple or others. I don’t have an e-reader and don’t expect Santa to bring me one this year. Nevertheless, the trend provokes thought.

Traditionalists point to all that is wrong with the departure from paper books to the wild, wooly frontier of electronic books. You miss the notes in the margins, the scraps tucked inside pages, the portability and unlimited battery life of paper.

I’ve already pared down the number of paper books that I read in a year to a number that I’d be embarrassed to share in the newspaper, the last remaining form of media that attracts people who would care about such a statistic. A dozen books a year would be generous. I’m currently working my way through a 1,000-page tome about early American history from last Christmas and I’ll be lucky to finish before I receive another like it this year. It’s not that I don’t read. It’s that I read so much online now, hundreds of thousands of words from my feed reader and the recommended magazine and newspaper articles of my favorite online aggregators.

Why is it then that as a writer I still crave my work in paper? Is this mere custom or something else?

As part of a blogging couple and as an online college instructor, I live in a house that glows resplendent with the touch screens of fine modern gadgets. Our three boys join us in staring at the screens to see some of their favorite stories, characters and games. These devices, I gather, will become first as exciting and then as utilitarian to them as those Kmart typewriters were to me as a boy. They say the e-readers are making essays and “pamphleteering” as popular as the days of the revolution, and that’s good.

Nevertheless, books still rule our household. Henry, our oldest, brings books home from kindergarten. Doug and George, now 3, read their favorites around the house. Doug parks sometimes for an hour in the living room chair paging back and forth through tales of tractors. George reads at night by the dim nightlight, usually succumbing to sleep with an alphabet book still in hand.

Yes, much of this can be done electronically, and will, but beware a world that depends on the behavior of electrons in large numbers. Such a world lacks the permanence of a good book passed down to wide eyes. These eyes want to see both, and more.

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range writer and community college instructor. Read more at his blog or his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”


  1. Nice…

  2. The privacy of the phone booth gave way to the open sided stand which gave way to the most personal of discussions taking place in the frozen foods aisle.

  3. I used to do that with the typewriters! Oh, the filthy, filthy things I typed on those.

    Books will never fully go away. I’ve tried reading books on a friend’s Kindle, and I just can’t stand it. It feels like using a computer, and since I already spend 8-12 hours each day doing that, the thought of reading on a Kindle after work makes me weary.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.