Letter from 2199: On E Reading, Books and Learning Technologies

Dear Great-Great-Great Aunt Bottledworder,

I cannot believe it’s mid-April already!

We’re nearing the end of my Spring semester. It makes me quite agitated to think that I still haven’t gotten my act together about even the first of my new year’s resolutions. That blinking reminder keeps mocking me from the corner of my screen — “Ten for Twenty: Ten Resolutions for 2199” !

I’m going to be just the same old overgrown teenager even at twenty like everyone says I am! I hate that my birthday is coming up tomorrow.

You know me by now. I’ve been writing you these letters ever since I found your archive of online blogs from earlier last century. You know, I’ve gone through so many of them posts. But still my  spellings are as atrocious as ever (but I like to think that’s only because they banned spell checkers in schools mid-century–we have to learn our spellings now unlike luccky you’s from 2013.)

But they couldn’t drill spelling into me.

They did design some supposedly super self adjusting lesson programs that they imported for me from the Moon Centre of Learning Technoologies. It was so strong that even the cat has been scribbling C-A-T on the scratching board ever since.

But not me.

So pardon a misplaced pathetic vowel or consonant here and there. Thank god you wont get a chance to judge my apostrophes like grumpy old Grandma–they (apostrophes, not Grandma) disappeared from the English language since she went to school but she refuses to enter the modern age and keeps picking on me when mom’s not there and the cat won’t listen. “Where’s the apostrophe in James’ book? Where is it? Where?” as though I can find it around the corner.

Unexpecto Apostrophum
Unexpecto Apostrophum (Photo credit: t3rmin4t0r)

I tip toed here into the attic today right after she dozed off downstairs (as you know) at about noon. It’s terribly hot here already (you wouldn’t know New York weather if you lived now in 2199. It’s as hot as Calcutta summers like in your day and Calcutta summers are as hot as . . . well, I can’t find an equivalent in your time 2013 and anyway my knowledge of geography or science did not turn out like you would have hoped so I wont venture explaining.)

I was feeling rather lonely today (as you know I do when I’m doing research for my paper) and so I came up to read a post of yours about you in a library when you were maybe my age. We don’t have those anymore (libraries, you know) and I sometimes wonder what it must have been like to do research with friends all sitting together around a table in a reading room.

They still have one of those old structures next to Bryant Park here in New York (I think they called it the New York Public Library in your time) where they store old, digital multimedia and other ancient artifacts now.  I saw the building when I took a walking tour of mid-Manhattan with a guide but Grandma, as usual, made a fuss about feeling hot and cold all together at the same time because the temperature controls of her ancient iShirt45 wasn’t working properly even though I’ve told her a hundred times to borrow my new iShirtMaxx before setting out.

But anyway, as you know already, I’m not the brightest bulb in the lamp (to use an idiom from your time?) or the sleekest phone in the pack (is that the right expression?) or the fastest plane in the sky (hope my History of 21st Century Science and Technology 101 is helping me here. I do want to impress you Great Mashi Bottledworder–for that is what I’ve decided to call you to get in touch with our common Bengali roots. It kind of sounds nice, don’t you think? You must know they don’t have Bengali anymore. Or Hindi. Or Mandarin. Or Swahili. Or any other language for that matter. Nothing that can’t be easily used on the internet, they said, a century ago. So we all speak English now. )

My hats off to you Great Mashi Bottledworder for the effort you must have put in to write all these posts.

Do you know what happened today? I found something! They were in an alcove on the far side of this attic completely hidden from view. Guess what? I found a bunch of items that I’ve only seen pictures of (I was going to say read about but you’d know, wouldn’t you? Youre a sharp one.)

They were in different sizes, mostly rectangular-looking objects (something like a box) that opened up from one side to reveal thin sheets with groups of alphabets on them like we see on a screen. Words and sentences and paragraphs. Some of those sheets came apart under the slight pressure of my fingers as I held them. Some seemed to have hard cardboard surfaces on two sides covered in leather with letters of gold onto which several generations of worms had bored tiny holes. When I touched them, the hard surfaces and some of those sheets came off and the a thin powder fell on the floor.

English: Title page of 1861 first edition (sec...
Title page of 1861 first edition (second issue) of Palgrave’s Golden Treasury (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If grandma finds out I touched these she will kill me. But since I can hear her slow, deep breathing still and the cat has not made any alarmed noises downstairs I think it’s safe to write some more on my Write-o-meter. It tells me I still have 3678 words of project work to finish before evening (failing which it will send a strict report to Sir Supercomputer 31 who is my essay grader for this semester. The third bad report and I have no hope to pass the class.)

I’m still holding this thing I found in your alcove. I know it must be a book since it looks similar to a picture in one of your posts. I know I should’ve known it’s a book but I flunked Ancient Technologies of Reading last semester and haven’t had a chance to re-take that course. Such a messed up system! First years have priroty now since they are due to visit the Museum of Reading Technologies and Archives on the moon in two weeks.

But you have to give me credit. I figured out what they were (even that these sheets are called pages) all on my own in about a half hour! You wouldn’t know, Great Mashi Bottledworder, what pages do mean now in 2199. I can’t even begin to explain since description is not another of my strong points unfortunately.

But I am still very puzzled about a few things here about this thing called a book. Let me write them down one by one, slowly, as Sir Supercomputer 31 told me to when things go too fast for me to get a grasp of.

Point 1: I know you’re supposed to read this thing, but how? Are you supposed to turn each and every page with your fingers and look on both sides of every sheet every time you have to go through a book? But if you have to do that, where do you take notes then? What if you’re eating mango pie? With your fingers? And what happens after you turn these sheets a couple of times? Won’t they fall apart?

Point 2: What, if you were like me (I know you weren’t) and were of the type that leaves stuff everywhere and forgets about them? Just the other day I left my sunglasses in the cab and got off and didn’t remember them until next morning until guess who needed a pair of sunshades because she was going into the upper atmosphere for her old ladies’ meetup group on healthy yoga habits in space?

What if you lost your book and Sir Supercomputer 31 found out?

(Just an aside now in a whisper–how did your Sir Supercomputer find out whether you had read a page in a  textbook or skipped a couple? I so want to skip sometimes, especially the repetitions at the end of chapters,  but my Read-o-meter transmits my data. Many of my friends have tried to fiddle around with their Read-o-meters but they upgraded them now so you’re bound to get into bigger trouble than you started with. I know because I trusted James who claims to be the hacker of the century. Sure!)

Now that I’m thinking of James, let’s move on to point number . . . ummm. . . well, counting not a strong point with me either. Well. Anyway.

English: Cat?
The cat still looks the same. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How did you tell your friends that you’d read a book? I mean, how did you share, like or recommend? How did people know you’d read something? What a pity it would be if you read something and no one knew about it! (As for me, I often like and share stuff that I haven’t read at all. But that’s me. I’m sure you didn’t do it.) But I mean, seriously, how did others know and how did the writer know you liked their work?

I have been puzzling over this point all afternoon.

On the whole though, I think I’m quite lucky compared to you, despite Sir Supercomputer 31.

Mom Dad can’t subject me to any used books anymore. All school material have to be bought brand new according to Universal Publishers as of mid-century so they can’t thrust James’ old books (or E equivalents) on me. Used material is illegal to sell. And buying has become so simple now since there’s only one publisher in the whole world (and also in the moon colony). They decide what the prices are and who gets to be a writer.

Thankfully, they’ll never pick me, I know.

Who wants to be a writer anyway? It’s the lowest paid job of all. I’d rather join granny’s crabby old band of revolutionary cooks than write.

Oops! I can hear Granny stir! Let me put these books back.

Wow! They are so heavy. How on earth did you carry them to school leave alone read them! (Although I do know you never had to travel long distances like we have to to the Moon Academy for classes but still, these must have broken your backs and your backpacks!)

Anyway, bye Great Mashi Bottledworder for now. Won’t get to write to you until after my birthday. I’m dreading Grandma’s gift of yet another upgrade to my Read-o-meter.

I’m sure if you were here, Great Mashi, you would have given me a book.

Note from BW: Two articles I read recently merged in my brain and came out as this letter: The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens and Essay-Grading Software Offers Professors a Break

©bottledworder, 2013. https://bottledworder.wordpress.com
Share to show you care but with attribution only for non-commercial purposes. No derivative works.

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29 thoughts on “Letter from 2199: On E Reading, Books and Learning Technologies”

  1. i really enjoyed that! How on earth do we manage with our pulpy old books? I am quite amazed at myself 🙂
    The truth will be stranger yet, I’m sure, and I’m sorry I won’t find out…

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  2. Your post is very creative. Things have changed so much since I was a child, it’s hard to imagine how much different things will be in 80 years. Not too long ago I ran across an old history book on Visalia, CA Mid-century authors figured that Visalia would have sky scrapers, and people would travel like the Jetsons. None of it ever turned out. So, it’s fun to think about, but impossible to predict !

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  3. Hi! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. It was super fun! I love how you are in 2199 and writing in retro, I found your style very fresh and appealing. Please keep writing, and I hope to read something like this again very soon!

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  4. Brilliant post— you are truly one of the smartest writers on the web.

    First, I thought 2199 was a name, which’d make you ancient today.  Then, realizing it was “a letter from the future” (and funny!), I thought someone else wrote it.

    Some of the detail was fairly accurate of a plausible future (scary!), I thought it could’ve been a real letter from the future!  …Though my understanding of quantum mechanics makes that kind of thing only possible under certain circumstances… such happenings haven’t happened.

    And “won’t” needs hyphenation, or else it becomes wont (n.): 1) accustomed or used, habitual; 2.) likely.

    So, uhm, long comment, but, brilliant post, Great Mashi Bottledworder.

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  5. One of my favorite things about Star Trek will always be that Captain Kirk bought and read real books. As much as I love my ebooks, it makes me have hope for the paper format’s future. : )

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  6. I’ve been tempted to fiddle with my read-o-meter too. I love it BW. And coming from you, it is an honor to have you like my blog. Thank you. BTW, why would anyone think you were a man? You are so obviously genius…hehehe

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  7. All I can say is god, I hope not. I haven’t taken the chance to really think about how this technology will affect future generations, because I figured that I would teach my own children about books and whatever form it was in, they’d be well-educated, etc. But it’s certainly thought-provoking.

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  8. Magnificent and thank you! There are people of the same age as my older children who cannot read cursive. Who am I kidding? Half of my adult children cannot read cursive. It’s sad.

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  9. Dear co-blogging cousin in the 21st century,
    So thrilled to read the letter you shared from your great great great niece. She is so cute!! Too bad she was serious and not joking about the decline in reading and writing and thinking .. I’m so glad you wrote it because I got a good laugh! And I appreciate the time period we live in (mostly!!).
    Sincerely,
    M

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      1. Hi again BW,
        I read your ggg (g to the 3rd power?)’s letter again. I’m thinking of a slight technical problem. Why do we have to move ahead in time almost 200 years to “have” a great great great niece who is turning 20? Something seems off here. A great niece is a sibling’s grandchild. That is here and now (theoetically). A great great niece is a sibling’s great grandchild. (25 years later). And great great niece is 25 years after that. So how did you get to 186 years from now. I guess people live longer and have kids later in life as the years progress? Hmmm. Just a question for you bw. Am I missing something? 🙂 thanks!!
        M

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