Lost art: discovering things in a digital age

John Gushue
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J.J. Abrams, the writer, producer and director, is one of the people behind the TV series "Lost." He's also the director of the new Star Trek movie, which opens this week.

For its latest issue, Wired magazine recruited Abrams as its guest editor, and I was more than pleased to find Abrams filled the issue with more than just plugs for his shows and movies. Indeed, an essay he wrote - about what he called the "lost art," no pun intended, of discovering things, the old-fashioned way - really struck home.

As one of the guardians of the bountiful, and confounding, secrets of "Lost," Abrams says the digital age is creating an audience that wants instant satisfaction, namely of getting to the ending right away. Abrams says he could tell you how "Lost" ends, but you'd only be disappointed, and it wouldn't make much sense anyway, given there's more than a year of plot twists and weekly reveals to experience.

On a broader level, I'd put it this way: when we get the spoiler, we miss not just the plot, but the point.

What surprised me with Abrams' piece is how it relates to our daily lives, and well beyond what's on TV. For instance, he writes of the pleasure he takes in going to record stores, compared to the emptiness he often feels as he clicks over the multitude of songs he's downloaded to his computer.

"Those little icons you scroll past mean almost nothing to most of us. Why? Because we didn't get on the train, brave the weather, bump into strangers, and hear music we didn't choose," he writes. "In other words, we didn't earn the right to casually scan those wooden bins."

And earn, as well, the enjoyment that comes when we stumble on something, or go through the process of experiencing it from start to finish.

Our house is a pretty digital one. We have, I'm almost embarrassed to say, six different computers, all but one of them in regular use. I use three different PVRs (of different vintages) to juggle the movies and TV shows we watch. I don't often play music on my stereo anymore; instead, I rely on my computer, an iPod and a docking station to keep the tunes rolling.

And yet, I relate completely to the argument that we're all losing something. I, too, love dropping into record stores (in my case, it's Fred's, the Duckworth Street icon that hopefully will last forever) and randomly thumbing through things. It's far more satisfying than any kind of digital browsing.

I work in the online news business, and while I get most of my news over a screen and, more frequently, a phone, I still love reading newspapers. I buy more magazines than I have time to read. Even so, nothing makes me happier than an evening on the couch, thumbing through the glossy pages, lingering on the articles.

This week, Amazon is launching a new version of its Kindle - this time aimed at newspapers and magazines. There's a lot of hype, and I hope it takes off, for this reason: newspapers and magazines, frankly, need every bit of help they can get.

At some point, I might even pick up such a device myself. But I'll also know that something is lost along the way.

Elsewhere this week
There are four Fs in Ffffound! (don't forget the exclamation point), a site that lets people bookmark stuff they've found online that others might enjoy. Instead of text, though, everything is an image: a photograph, a bit of design, an ad and so on. A very eclectic mix, and always engaging.

Mentoring Boys
Last year, my wife and I attended a talk sponsored by local school officials involving Barry MacDonald, a Vancouver speaker and author of the book "Boy Smarts." It was a thoughtful and sometimes provocative speech. Like others, I signed up for the Mentoring Boys newsletter that MacDonald sends out by e-mail. If you have a son, and want to be a better parent, you may want to sign up too. I've found it very useful in helping our young fellow prepare for the big ol' world.

John Gushue is a news writer for CBCNews.ca in St. John's. E-mail: surf@thetelegram.com. Blog: johngushue.typepad.com. Twitter: twitter.com/JohnGushue.

Organizations: Star Trek, Wired magazine, Mentoring Boys Fred's Amazon

Geographic location: Duckworth Street, Vancouver, St. John's

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