April 2, 2001
the Electronic Word
By Bailey Thomson
I have been walking around the house attached to earphones.
up in this fashion, I look a lot like my students -- except they are young
and have more hair. Earphones are an essential accessory on campus. Sometimes
students even take them off to talk to one another between music tracks.
Iím doing something radical: Iím reading a book.
My earphones attach
me to an electronic file in the memory of my new MP3 player.† The sound
is clear and crisp. Often Iím listening to the voice of the author. Itís
almost like sitting across from him for a private reading.
my latest book, for example: Thomas Friedmanís ďThe Lexus and the Olive
Tree.Ē Itís a discourse on how economic globalization has replaced the old
world order we knew during the Cold War.
can adapt to the competitive and open way of doing business now. For example,
they can try to produce and sell something as desirable to global markets
as a Lexus automobile. Or they can struggle to hold on to a bunch of olive
trees, rooted in worn-out soil. In other words, they can be become irrelevant.
That book was one
of many I had on my list to read, but somehow I never got to it. Nor did
I read Thomas Cahillís ďHow the Irish Saved Civilization,Ē although I enjoyed
his† other two works in the same series.
what can you do when you spend an hour or more a day answering e-mail? Or
youíre juggling your duties at work and home with civic obligations? Time
just seems to run out around 10 oíclock every evening, when the eyes start
I thought about when I do have some free time. I seem to spend an inordinate
amount of time driving from one meeting to another, often at some distance
from where I live. Now thereís some reading time, if only I had the books
on cassettes to enjoy.
I bought a condensed volume and plugged the first tape into my truckís cassette
player. That method worked pretty well, except what do you do when you are
out of your vehicle, but you want to finish the book? I tried a portable
cassette player. It worked all right, but it was bulky. Also, I kept misplacing
some coincidence, I happened to read an advertisement for an electronic
version of a book on tape. I went to the companyís web site, www.audible.com.
The choices astonished me. Not only were there condensed books, but in some
cases the whole works.
I had to do was pay for the service and download the files to my laptop
computer. I had books available anytime I wished to plug my earphones into
how do you carry a laptop around with you? Also, the batteries run out in
a couple of hours. Thatís no solution.
I went back to the web site and found the answer. Itís a little MP3 player
made by a company called Duo-Aria. It weighs just a few ounces and fits
into my shirt pocket. I can slip on a pair of tiny earphones, and Iím in
business wherever I spare time for reading. Even better, this device slips
into my truckís cassette player. In fact, it looks like a cassette Ė only
itís made of metal.
audio company sold it to me at a big discount, with the agreement I would
buy a couple of books a month. The deal reminded me of how companies used
to sell you a stereo cheap if you would buy a certain number of records.
Still, Iím a satisfied customer.
it. The digital revolution is speeding up our lives. Weíre stuck with chasing
that Lexus, unless we want to vegetate under our metaphorical olive trees.
But there are ways to make technology do what we want it to do Ė namely,
enhance our lives.
me, itís a small victory just to carve out a little more time for an old-fashioned
pursuit that I love: reading.
me those earphones, please.
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