Where are the gadgets?

When e-readers first became reality, my younger cousins assumed I was going to be like Jean-Luc Picard and be all mortified that my precious paper tomes might disappear. And I admit that I miss the days of sitting cross-legged among stacks of musty books in a used bookstore, stumbling on some delicate treasure that only I can appreciate, and for fifty-cents, too. But those days are gone already. Even the used bookstores are organized and have catalogues and databases and barcodes. And although I appreciate my own old books, with their hard covers, crinkly pages, and unique smell and feel, I was not mortified at the prospect of e-books. Instead, I became very excited about the possibilities.

I did not see the advent of e-readers as the beginning of the demise of bookstores or books. On the contrary, I saw it as the way bookstores could carry millions, instead of hundreds of titles. I saw it as the way many, many more books could find their way into many, many more hands.

I imagined walking into a bookstore and buying a gadget for $20 or $30 that had all the works of Mark Twain on it, or any of the great authors. I expected to pay more for the contemporary writers, maybe $20 or so for a Stephen King title, or a little more for two or three of his older books, on a handheld gadget that was battery or even solar operated that I could throw in my bag and take anywhere. I imagined being on vacation and having a handful of gadgets that held scores of titles among them. I imagined buying them as gifts around the holidays. I saw shelves with lots of these gadgets all stacked neatly next to paper books. I saw my own book collection stop taking up so much room. Imagine having the space for the Oxford English Dictionary UNabridged? I guess I was hallucinating.

And, oh, how thrilled to think that I could make my own selections!!! I could choose my favorite Hans Christian Andersen tales and mix them up with my favorite Grimm’s Fairy Tales and throw a new feminist fairy tale or two into the mix. What a gift it would make. The Beth David gift collection for toddlers, for pre-teens, for….everyone.

That was my idea of the modern bookstore. Why not? If we can make a calculator for $1.99, why not? If we can create a jump drive that’s an inch long and has a capacity of eight gigabytes, why not?

So, what happened? We have enormously expensive gadgets and no practical way to share books anymore. Instead of $20 for a book, we pay $4.99, but we are forced by greedy companies to put it on a gadget that costs hundreds of dollars. And we have to be connected in order to do so, which means more money to yet another company.

What happened?

Not only do we have to pay much, much more than necessary for something that simply needs to display words on a screen, but we can’t share anymore. And, worse yet, we have to buy the books from some unseen entity that keeps track of our purchases. Yes, they keep track, it’s good business for them to keep track. Not only does the company that sold you the gadget know what you bought and if you reading it, but the place you bought the title from knows, and that means Uncle Sam can know, too. Can you say “Big Brother”?

My dream world where my youngest cousins can’t rip the pages because there are no pages to rip has not materialized. My fantasy bookstore that has rows and rows of electronic books on display is in my mind only.

Humans are separated from apes and other animals by a handful of very distinct attributes; our ability to communicate through the written word surely ranks among the most important. Giving the gift of a well-written book, sharing the words of an author with your friend, sitting in a corner with a satisfying tale of love or betrayal, fantasy or actual events, are all things we should be able to do without some unseen entity butting its nose in.

If our precious NSA wants to know what we are reading, it should have to send a human to the bookstore to watch us buy a book or a gadget. We should not be forced to put all our titles into some database that we have no control over. If we want to, so that we can save a buck or two, fine, that’s our choice.  But the way it’s set up now, we have no choice. We have to buy the expensive gadget, pay to be connected, pay to download a title. And forget about sharing it with a friend when you’re done, because who in her right mind would hand over a $400 gadget to let someone read a book?

Where are the bright minds of our time to do this thing? It hardly seems complicated. What’s taking so long? I have Christmas gifts to buy.


I am covered, this much I know

I had a recall this week on my squish-and-click exam (read: mammogram, “man’s” second worst torture for women, the pap smear being the first). It’s not the first time they told me there was a spot they needed to take another look at. The first time it happened was the first time I gained a significant amount of weight. It turned out to be fatty tissue. The second time it was after I had lost weight and then gained it back. [sigh]

This time it was after gaining yet another pile of pounds that I hope I will lose someday. I know the popular wisdom is that it’s bad to do that yo-yo thing; but I never understood how it can be bad to gain and lose 20 pounds four times, instead of gaining 80 pounds. But I digress.

The technicians and people who schedule you on the phone never tell you anything. That’s good, I guess. They just make an appointment for the very next day and tell you how it will be a long one this time. Anytime a medical entity in America schedules you for something within 24 hours, it’s a pretty good bet you should be worried.

I wasn’t, though. I didn’t even mention it to anyone. I just figured it was the same old weight thing; that the squish just wasn’t painful enough for the click to work. It has to hurt, a lot, or they call you back.

So, I went back today. We had a power outage at my house. I was getting ready to go, showerless, when the power came on; just in time to make me think I could get a shower in without being late. I was a few minutes late, but nothing catastrophic.

I got in there and this time it was definitely painful enough. What a ridiculous test this is. Really. I’m one of those women who refuse to go every year. It’s a radiation based image, and all the research shows that THE tissue in the human body most sensitive to radiation is the female breast. Yet we insist on shooting radiation, a known carcinogen, directly into the female breast in order to detect cancer. Someone tell me they see the stupidity in this.

So, I go every other year instead of every year. One of life’s little compromises.

Today, I went for my re-do, which is becoming routine for me. My scans from the other day were on the wall, with two areas circled. I leaned my face close to them and tried to see what the experts saw. One area was pretty big. I was certain that it could not be cancer. Surely I would’ve felt that during my self-checks, right? The other one was pretty small. It had that classic look that had been described to me on occasion, and that I have seen in various pictures I’ve seen in my own research. It looked like a splash, an uneven starburst, like you see in ads announcing 15% off, or 50 years in business, but kind of ragged around the edges.

I kind of clicked out a tsk out of the side of my cheek and thought, “that could be a tumor.”

We did the pictures and I went into the little room to wait while the radiologist read the scans.

I expected to feel fear, dread, worry…something. But to my surprise, dismay and relief, I did not. My little brain simply started thinking of what I would do if it did turned out to be cancerous. Of course, the next step would probably be a biopsy.


Well, the first thing was, I knew the time and work constraints would be extremely stressful and complicated. I’m a one-person shop publishing a weekly newspaper, using freelancers and working from home. It’s a crazy life in the best of physical health, but when I have a cold or some other mild ailment, it’s torture. When anything at all eats up time, it’s torture. The idea of torturous treatments adding to the torture was not a pleasant thought.

As for the medical part, I would probably insist on a lumpectomy, unless any new research I uncovered changed my mind. The bigger question in my mind was if I would do radiation. I always go back-and-forth on that. I would have to do more research before making that decision. See above for the contradiction inherent in using radiation to kill cancer cells. I already knew I would not do chemo for a small tumor.

The one thing I did not think about while in that little room, the one thing I knew I did not have to worry about or wonder about while pondering my future, was if my insurance covered it all. I knew it did, because I live in Massachusetts.

Now tell me, those of you out there in the wider world who are so against the Affordable Care Act (or “Obamacare” if you insist): why shouldn’t every American, every resident of this great nation of ours, be free of that same worry?

Every American should be able to say, without hesitation, “I am covered. This much I know.”

PS: The spots turned out to be compressed tissue. They got flattened out sufficiently and painfully enough during the “squish” part of the program to be identified as harmless.