In a world full of widebody airliners including the Airbus A380, people forget the 747’s mammoth size and its status as a prestige aircraft. Dubbed the “Jumbo Jet” by the media, the 747-100 was about 1.5 times as large as a Boeing 707 and could carry 440 passengers compared to the 707’s modest 189 headcount. In fact the airplane was so large, Boeing had to build a new factory in Everett, Washington, just for assembly and it remains the largest building by volume in the world.
While the supersonic dream was ultimately a commercial failure (for now), the 747 became an icon of industrial design. Along with numerous aerodynamic innovations, it was the first commercial aircraft to incorporate high-bypass turbofan engines like those developed for the C-5. The Jumbo also pioneered commercial autopilot for landing and quadruple main landing gear.
Maybe it's time for new resolutions, new experiments. My goal going forward, if I am to retain my sanity, seems clear enough: to try to avoid imposing fixity on an increasingly fluid world, and to surrender in good faith to the flow, even when I struggle to find good reasons to embrace it. Less stockpiling, more listening? Sure. But I don't believe I will ever pass a stack of dusty CDs in a Goodwill and not feel a pang of excitement, an insatiable curiosity, a compulsive need to rifle, touch, and understand. My old behavior is simply too enjoyable, too integral to my identity to give up completely.
My father once challenged me on what he perceived as the senselessness of my record-buying habit, and I explained to him that the happiest feeling in the world, for me, was walking into a record store with a few dollars to spend; few things have ever made me feel as good, and I suspect few things ever will. There is, in any obsession, a kind of helplessness, but as addictions go, this one has always seemed to me pretty harmless. The modern world, however, has issued a new and terrifying challenge: Try and keep up.
And now, in 2018, the economics of online publishing are running everyone off the map. I sometimes think, with some regretful wonder and gratitude, about an Awl chat-room conversation that took place in 2013. Some annoying mini-scandal had transpired on the Internet, and everyone else who worked for the little network—they all had years of experience on me—was typing out lively scenarios of what they would do if our online infrastructure magically burned down. Sitting in my little blue house in Ann Arbor, I kept quiet for a while, and then typed something like, “Aww guys, no, the Internet is great.” I meant it, though the sentiment now feels as distant as preschool. Reading the Awl and the Hairpin, and then working with the people that ran them, had actually convinced me that the Internet was silly, fun, generative, and honest. They all knew otherwise, but they staved off the inevitable for a good long while.
When we think of reading, we think of scrolling, clicking, and pushing screens, seeing these as replacements for the analog method of turning, flipping, and folding pages. But the book, made through mechanical processes, engineered as an appliance for leisure and instruction, can also be seen as a machine, a tool for use, a technology developed to serve a need, and one with a long and rich history. We, of a certain generation, can remember learning to type and swipe, touching screens as we once touched paper pages, forgetting that previously the book, too, was a form to be learned. In 2001, a Norwegian television show spoofed this very idea in a skit called “The Medieval Help Desk” in which a monk, distraught, unable to use this new thing called “the book,” goes for help. The aide at the desk then teaches him how to open the cover, assuaging the monk’s fear that “some of the text would disappear” upon turning the page. Curator John Roach cites this skit in his introduction to The Internal Machine, an exhibition, at the Center for Book Arts in New York, of more than a dozen artworks that explore and reimagine the mechanical aspects of the analog book’s status as both a sculptural and use-value object. From flipping pages to creasing spines, these artists present the book at the intersection of form and function, wedging open the space between its intended purpose as tactile tool for research and the acquisition of knowledge, and the vast possibilities for books as objects with myriad surfaces, planes, and bindings.