Monday, August 10, 2009

Seeing A World In A Grain Of Sand? There's An App For That

Amidst all the passings-on of the past month, there's a small one that should not go unmentioned: the 20-gig iPod I'd had since early 2004.

That little white brick with "La beauté sera CONVULSIVE ou ne sera plus" (from Nadja) inscribed on its back was my soundtrack, my road-trip companion and my record collection. Eventually it also became my stereo and alarm clock, and I think that's what killed it. Its downfall was not having to play "I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night" once too often, but being docked all the time like a patient etherized upon a table, rendering it incapable of surviving on its own.

The fateful night before my vacation, I decided to make a mix to bring along. When I connected the iPod to my computer, I saw the battery draining. "Hold on," I whispered, "hold on just a few minutes more." But it was not to be; instead of going toward the light, it went dark, and I went away tuneless.

Upon my return, I got myself a iPod Nano in mournful black that's one quarter the size of my old one with many times the features. And then, 10 days ago, I did what I swore I never would: I bought an iPhone. I'd been a Crackberry user since 2001, so this was a huge step, but my trackball started acting up one day, and I saw my opening.

I'm still not back to super-fast typing, and occasionally I call someone when I mean to text, but I feel that I've entered a whole new era in my relationship with personal technology, where everything I need is on one tiny device. Except for the small and annoying detail that its primary sync is to my office computer, and most of the music I love the most is on the laptop I use at home - but that's what the Nano's for, and the Mini a friend loaded up with delightful mood music for me as a birthday present a few years back, and the Shuffle I use for running.

Considering the silicon chips that make these devices possible made me think of William Blake and the poem that gives this post its title. Now you really can "hold infinity in the palm of your hand." How his near-contemporaries, the inventive scientists of the 18th and 19th centuries, who populate The Age of Wonder, the fascinating book I'm currently reading, would have marveled at that.

Or, I should say, the printed book I'm currently reading. Because I've downloaded Stanza and am reading Dante's The Divine Comedy (the beautiful Longfellow translation) on my iPhone whenever I have an idle moment. I've just left the Third Circle of the Inferno (the one devoted to the sins of sensuality, which is where I'd probably wind up if I believed in such a thing). Which seems strangely appropriate in the hell that passes for subway stations at this time of year.

(Hieronymus Bosch's Hell, seen at the Palazzo Ducale in Venice.)

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