Let me say in my defense that I am not a complete Luddite. I have had a computer for over 15 years but it took me a while to overcome the technophobia attached with such a purchase. At the time I was living on a small sailboat so a desk-top model was out of the question and the price of a notebook back then was simply out of the question. Not only was it a question of space and money but it centered around what I wanted to do with the equipment. All I wanted to do then was to write about the previous five years in France, sailing across the Atlantic and my single-handed, nine-month trip to Mexico, Belize and Guatemala, and I couldn’t justify the expense of a notebook computer to do that and to play a few games when I got bored.
One day when I was at one of the big box stores looking at the notebooks I came across a Brother notebook word processor. Perfect. It would do what I wanted and it was about a fifth of the cost of a “real” notebook computer. It also had a version of the Tetris game which I became really, really good at. But the machine was also very, very, I mean molasses slow. I believe it probably used an old 286 chip and you had to store whatever you’d written onto a floppy disk. Remember those? It wasn’t one of the big floppies but the ones with the plastic shell. As my stories got longer it took forever for the machine to work its way to the end so I could continue writing.
In 1994 the Pentium chip was introduced to the market and I boldly entered the computer age. But my Luddite gene did influence my purchase. My first notebook had a 486 processor, not a Pentium. Naturally the prices were slashed on the 486 hardware and I also figured it was probably better to have the last of the old technology than it was to have the first of the new that didn’t have all the kinks worked out of it. I was very happy with that piece of equipment. It had MS Word on it and when I wanted to get to the end of a piece I was working on it went there instantly instead of taking two or three minutes, literally, for the old word processor to work its way to the last word in a story.
I am not technophobic, but you’re not going to find me camping out all night waiting to be one of the first to buy a new iPad or anything like that. I don’t have a “smart” phone. The one I have is a “dumb” phone. It does one thing. It makes phone calls. Period.
Now, I love to read. Have since I was a kid. I mean when I took the standardized tests in school I had the reading level of a college freshman before I even hit junior high. But when Amazon came out with the Kindle and Barnes & Noble introduced the Nook I didn’t run right out and buy one. No, I like “dead tree” books. No way did I need or was I going to buy one of those electronic doo hickies.
But I moved to Panama. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find books in English here? There’s a terrific used book store in Dolega called the Bookmark and they fill a very big niche. But over the years of living on boats I’ve developed an aversion to collecting books. They’re big and bulky and a real pain in the old wazoo when you move from one place to another.
But still I avoided the temptation to buy an electronic reader even though I wrote and published a book that is only available in electronic form. I got my reading material in a couple of ways that bow to modern technology. I subscribed to Audible.com and download wonderful books to my iPod. Yes, I’ve had one of those for quite a few years and it’s loaded down with over 3,000 songs. I “read” 40 hour-long books when I would take my dog Penny for her afternoon walks and I listened to books when I was living in Boqueron and didn’t have a television. Listening to audio books takes me back to the days of my early childhood when I’d sit on my maternal grandfather’s lap and we’d listen to the evening news with H. V. “There’s gooood news tonight” Kaltenborn, Jack Benny, Amos and Andy et al on the big console radio in the living room together.
I’d also discovered Project Gutenberg with over 36,000 free public domain ebooks. I’d download the ones I wanted, copy them and paste them into a Word document and save that into a special folder in My Documents to be read at my leisure.
When it was announced that Amazon had come out with an app you could download for free that simulated their Kindle for your PC or Mac, I did it instantly. The only problem with this solution is that it’s not easy to read a book outside in a hammock. The glare on the notebook’s screen makes it nearly impossible to read. Besides that the computer is heavy, it gets damned hot sitting on your stomach or in your lap and the battery life is quite limited.
Slowly I developed the urge to actually get a Kindle or my own. Trying to get one delivered down here isn’t easy. First of all there is no home mail delivery and I don’t have a mailbox at the post office. Also there are no real addresses. For example, on the water bill the address for the house in Boqueron is listed as “The two-story house near the health clinic.” Personally, I think that’s priceless. I mean no company in the States is going to deliver something to The two-story house near the health clinic, Boqueron, Republica de Panama.
There is a gringo couple I know who live in the third house up the mountain from me. They’re in the States right now but will be returning in October. I thought that I’d buy a Kindle, have it delivered to them in Montana and have them bring it to me. Since they could declare it as their own personal property it would circumvent having to pay import duties on it. So, I’d only have to wait another couple of months or so and I could have my own Kindle and be able to lay out in the hammock and read on a lazy, rainy afternoon. That’s like every afternoon, folks, since we’re now deep into the rainy season here.
Then I saw a post on the Yahoo “Gringos in David” group from someone who said they were coming to Boquete and did anyone here need anything brought down from the States. A Kindle is quite small and light and wouldn’t take up much luggage space so I immediately got in touch with Al and we made arrangements for him to bring down a Kindle for me. We got together this past Thursday and voila as they say in Antibes, here it is along with the holder I bought to protect it:
I’ve used it in the hammock and it’s great. Yesterday I spent a lot of time riding buses. I went from home to Bugaba to buy some cigars from the factory there and then from there to Boquete to pick up the charger for the Kindle since Al forgot it when he came to Potrerillos to give me the unit. Then I had to ride the bus back down from Boquete to Dolega in order to get the bus back to Potrerillos. In all I was on the road for nearly eight hours and while I ususally listen to an audio book while riding on the buses I read my Kindle instead. On the ride from David to Bugaba a young guy sat next to me who was fascinated with the Kindle. He’d never even heard of such a thing. So, it’s turned out to be a way of meeting people, too. Turns out the young man is a border patrol agent. He showed me his I.D. I guess if I ever have any problems trying to get into or out of Costa Rica I’ll have someone I can appeal to. Who knows?
2 responses to “Surrender”
Hello King Richard:
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “You’re the best storyteller I know.” Thank you for sharing your stories. I’m afraid I’m a technophophile, my only problem is that I have a thin wallet. I’m still undecided whether I want an iPad or a Kindle. I had made up my mind on a Color Nook, but they don’t sell their e-books outside the U.S. Thank killed that project.
Congratulations on your new Kindle. I’m sure it’ll be your faithful companion at the “hamaca” for many years to come. When you have time, send me an i-mail about your experiences with the Kindle and what you like or don’t like about the gadget. It’s still on my “Wanting to do list.”
Wow! J.V. Kaltenborn! There’s a blast from the past. 😉
Double interesting to hear you talk of the earlier computer days, too. By the time I got my first computer in 1999 (!) the floppies had been consigned to the dustbin. Now, I can’t even remember why I decided I needed a computer, but I do remember my first experience of its magic – watching streaming coverage of the Oklahoma tornado outbreak in May of that year. I was astonished – watching OK television coverage in Houston? Who knew?
I’ll be interested in hearing about your experience with the kindle, too. I can’t imagine why I would need one, and I still don’t want one. But of course, I never needed or wanted a computer, either. 😉
As I said in the post, the Kindle is an essential tool for people who love to read but live in a country where the native tongue isn’t English, i.e. most of the world.
I certainly identify with your statement “I can’t imagine why I would need one, and I still don’t want one.” I certainly held the same opinion for the longest time. But in the last three days all I can say is “why didn’t I do this sooner?” I love the thing. Right now I’ve got 41 books active on it and another 21 “archived.” That is 21 I haven’t put into an active state yet. Most of the books I’ve gotten for free from Project Gutenberg but there are also a lot of free books on Amazon written by people who are still alive. I’ve got books I’ve been meaning to read for years but just never felt like spending money to buy a “dead tree” version. The Reign of Tiberius and The Histories by Tacitus as well as Caesar’s Commentaries. I’ve got, O Pioneers! and My Antonia by Willa Cather an author I’ve sadly neglected over the years. Some Mark Twain and Faulkner, too.
Now, you wouldn’t want to be toting all those books around with you when you’re making your trip to Panama to meet Omar and me, would you?