Category confusion

Picture it: three men on a plane, ranged unluckily in the same row of seats: a chance adjacency we each interpreted as punishment by the fates. To my right in the window seat, a college student slouching in sweatpants, about the same size as me (6 foot three, two hundred and twenty-ish pounds) but with a dense muscularity, a neutron-star version of my slack and dissipated forty-five-year-old self. To my left, a rotund gentleman my age or a little older. As I maneuvered past him to take my place in the middle seat, he said with a combination of apology and accomplishment, “I lost 100 pounds, now I’m working on the next 100.”

I rarely find myself in the goldilocks zone, but there I was, sandwiched between a smaller and a larger version of myself. All of us wedging shoulders uncomfortably for the two-hour flight from Atlanta to Detroit.

But more interesting than the cramps I courteously self-inflicted holding myself in a polite pretzel, a pacifying topographic adaptation to the shape envelopes of my flanking neighbors, was the way for the first time I was tricked by new media. An iPad picked the pocket of my imaginary.

To the left, big neighbor read his big novel, a heavy brick of paper. To the right, college student played his PSP. I in the middle read The Passage, by Justin Cronin, on my iPad. A bell gonged, the pilot said we were on approach to DTW, the flight attendant told us to turn off our electronic devices. The PSP got put away, The print novel didn’t. And my iPad? It stayed open throughout the landing; it wasn’t until we touched down that I realized, with a guilty start, that I had forgotten it was an electronic device at all.

Ebooks and ereading are not natural to me: they have felt unpleasantly frictionless and inherently duplicitous in their mimicry of an ontologically distinct media experience. But today something changed; the contents of my mind shifted during travel, and I accepted the iPad into that group of personal technologies I pay the high compliment of naturalizing by forgetting they are technologies in the first place.