February 18, 2002

snortin’ microfilm

I have no idea where this is going, but it’s probably in a handbasket, bound for some warm locale.

February. Birkenstocks. 54 degrees.

Microfilm machines kick the ass of any computer, hands down. Computers are so common they don’t mean anything anymore. Once upon a time, as evidenced by the Lone Gunman on the X-Files, computers had an aura of mystique about them. Only pale geeks that crawled around in basements could unlock their darkest secrets; make a ‘puter sing triumphant chords as it barrelled through locked steel doors and revolutionized the world. The Internet put the power back in the nerds, man, and look at the world cower before us!

Well, it never happened that way. Back in the day (and I reminisce now about the early- to mid-90’s, thanks to an unnaturally accellerated sense of progress) we enjoyed watching nerds sit in front of a computer and root around in digital FBI files. The portrayed power of the machine was incredible. From my chair, I have access to the entire world. If it wasn’t happening in front of a computer, it wasn’t happening, dude.

But now, ‘puters are lame. If I want to look something up I half-heartedly Google it and find exactly what I’m looking for and nothing I’m not. Oh sure, I could hack the FBI, but 99% of the time they wouldn’t have the information I need anyway. Grandma wants a delicious recipe for kelp chicken, not the secret thoughtcrime files of Yiddian Scrubblenesque. The romantic image has been dashed by the harsh reality: They’re too damn simple to be exciting.

So, where’s the excitement these days? Microfilm readers, of course. Working with microfilm, you actually feel like you’re doing something. You paw through the crate of 35mm rolls, grab the film of your liking, and try your darndest to spool it up to the hulking machine. It’s active, it’s tactile. You hope that other people in the library are watching you, because you’re so damn cool. Hey, look at me! I’m doing something with my hands! The wheels and gears make an awful racket as you twist the knob (it has knobs!) to scroll through hundreds of pages of newspaper. You pull levers to focus the lens and laugh in glee as you stumble upon unanticipated articles.


How many Google searches for ‘caves’ would return those results, huh? Huh? Where’s the tangent browsing? Where’s the repetitive flapping sound of a roll of film that just speedily wound itself back up?

Computers steal souls. The Internet is stupid. Give me hardcover indexes with brittle, yellowed pages. Give me snortin’ microfilm browsers. The only thing that could make the machine better is if I needed to shovel coal into its engines at the top of every hour. And a smoke stack; the reader could use a smoke stack.

And Harley Davidson handlebars. If I could curl my gloved hands around those hogs and scroll through pages with the accelerator, live would be good.