Address books are great (although I never use them)

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For most of my life, I’ve been one-sided selfish with Christmas cards: loved receiving them (even those from doctors’ offices) but only sent a small amount myself – same and these usually arrived in the mail on Boxing Day at the earliest. But that was before I got married in a major greeting card micro-publishing operation.

My wife oversees an impressive card mailing effort, and her main tool is a decades-old ringed address book. The kind of people we used in the hard copy era. I’m impressed. And just a little jealous.

I’ve kept numbers and addresses on the computer since the 1990s. Many reasons: lost address books, friends on the go who eat up entire pages with their whereabouts, and the way people have become. hard to find in all the notes, birthdays and itineraries that I have added in the margins.

Mark Lane

And then there is the writing problem. “Dysgraphia” sounds so clinical, but my handwriting has been a problem since I reliably wrote letters backwards in first grade. When my kids were in college, one of my daughter’s permission forms was rejected because the teacher said it was “obviously not written by an adult.” My journalist’s notebook notes are little wonders of what appears to be some kind of non-standard shorthand – maybe in Latin.

As a calligraphy student, I eagerly jumped to keyboards for everything and never looked back.

I ditched my tattered DayRunner filing cabinet and switched to a computer address book in DOS days when I carefully stored the details of my life, work, and knowledge on bits of plastic that the ancients called “floppy disks”, things that now exist only as icons that indicate a way to save something, a pictogram that must intrigue children. Nowadays, all those I know are listed in this mystical place that we reverently call “the cloud”.

All people and places are displayed legibly. Easy to find information no matter where I am. We live in the future. I can ask Alexa, Siri, Cortana, or some other disembodied voice where my people are supposed to be.

Full life; messy address book

Yet I consider my wife’s address book to be a unique and precious artifact. The kind of arts and crafts project that I know better than trying it out on my own, but seems like a good idea in the abstract.

For a well-kept and regularly updated address book, this could be a telephone directory, a school directory, an autograph book, a travel guide, a directory services, a group biography, a list of past meeting places, a list of workplaces, a university transfer file and a genealogical register. All in several shades of ink.

Maiden names are crossed out and marriage names are written above old surnames. You can follow separate entries that merge as the couples reunite and, unfortunately, some separate again in different address boxes… the Book of Life.

The dead exist alongside the living in the paper address book, unlike the online contact list where they languish invisible or evaporate into stray electrons after clicking a painful delete command. In the Book of Life, however, they could get a solemn cross, but at least their name remains on the page, a place of commemoration.

Online all of those kinds of leads disappear. Every day is a new clean page. How did all these people get here? Who knows?

In book form, often-visited pages have folded tabs and are more densely noted and fingerprinted while distant relatives stay clean and pristine. Everyone is the same online.

An address book kept for more than five years tends to be a mess. Because, well, life is chaotic, and it’s good to remember that. Especially at the end of the year when we often reach out to the folks on our back pages.

While I appreciate my wife’s book of life and the effort that goes into her feeding and maintenance, I know that I better not put my skills in hand in a more complicated form than a go sticker / look back at a Christmas present, but it’s good to know someone is following things better.

Mark Lane is a News-Journal columnist. His email is [email protected]


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