An Age of Marvels

Fittingly, as I write these words, technophiles are waiting to hear how much their bank accounts will suffer when Apple unleashes a new line of products from its lair in Cupertino, California.  I may watch a replay of the show tomorrow.  My words are being typed on an iMac which, at the age of four, is getting a bit long in the tooth in computer years (My wife might not think so), and using a piece of software, iWeb, that Apple cast by the wayside some years back, though it still mostly gets the job done.

It’s not altogether strange, then, that the first edition of my book on Thomas Lovewell is being produced on iBooks Author, another software title from Apple, but one designed for producing electronic volumes for the iPad, a device which I don’t happen to own.

I’m not entirely sold on the idea of reading books on tablet computers.  They’re harder to lend out, for one thing.  On the other hand, they do have some unmistakable advantages, such as interactive maps, and photographs that can expand to fill the screen several times over, allowing a reader to scroll about on a pictorial landscape and zero in on minute details.  There is a keyword index which pinpoints every usage of a search term, the name “Vinson,” for example, along with the context in which each instance of the name occurs.  Tap any item in the resulting list, and the screen zips to that page.  There can be sounds, narration, music, movies, even 3-D objects that twirl delicately under a reader’s fingertips.  Instead of footnotes, there are links that allow the curious to examine handwritten source documents.

The technology should be in its infancy, yet it’s already been honed to the point of being amazingly usable and a lot of fun.  Sounds like I should buy one.  I’ll ask.  The iPad also seems to be an especially appropriate vehicle for telling Thomas Lovewell’s story.

His life spanned an age packed with technological innovations.  He was born decades before the telegraph.  The first steam locomotive had not yet chugged along a length of track.  No one had ever posed for a photograph.  Yet, by the time Thomas Lovewell was ready to retire, his Jewell County neighbors were ringing each other up on telephones to decide whose automobile they were going to pile into, to take them to see the latest two-reeler at a nearby opera house.  Bigger wonders were already on the drawing boards.  In 1901 a Scotsman’s patent application essentially described the television delivery system of local broadcast stations and networks that have been a familiar part of the American landscape for the past sixty years.

The changes being wrought were not all welcome.  19th-century America was a lethal proving ground for the art of war.  But modern medicine was also born, in part, to deal with the staggering scope of the carnage we were suddenly able to inflict on each other.  Corporate and political corruption were not invented in Thomas Lovewell’s lifetime, but he may have seen them reach perfection.  According to historian Stephen Ambrose, no one has ever been able to untangle the snarl of deception woven by the railroads to help them stuff their pockets while they built the transcontinental link.  Congressmen who regarded themselves as incorruptibly honest, woke one morning to feel the blood drain from their cheeks as the realization finally hit them, that they had been bribed.

Their time was not really so vastly removed from ours.  Among the chief differences:  Most of us today know immediately when we are being offered a bribe.  And we have iPads now.

Well, some of us have one. 

© Dale Switzer 2023