Just ink and paper. A means of conveyance. A way of transferring something from one person to the next. Value a matter of convention. Both date back, at least for our purposes, about six hundred years, give or take.
My six year old son is rapidly learning the value of money, what it can buy and how slowly it is accumulated. He recently lost his first tooth. As an exercise in school last year he wrote a letter to the Tooth Fairy. In it he pleaded for a Wii game under his pillow. The generous sprite left him $5 instead. Probably too much, but it was his first tooth. Last night he remarked how when he is older and a daddy his child will likely be reaping something in the order of $15 for a tooth. Bright kid; I’d better hide my collection of books for a decade or two. Wouldn’t want to mess with his head too early.
He is also learning the value of books. My wife and I, mostly my wife, have been sharing books with him since he could sit up on his own. We marvel at the fact that one day, seemingly out of the blue, he knew how to read. These days his tastes run toward Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series. They are inspired pieces of silliness. Junie B. Jones runs a close second. Wonderful books.
But paper and ink are in danger of becoming obsolete. I sit here writing this in a Costco on my lunch hour. After buying a diet pop I have $41.17 left in my pocket. In my wallet I have two credit cards and a bank card. Digital money I could use, if I wasn’t so cheap, to buy something out there on the floor.
I said ‘writing this,’ when really I am tapping it out on a miraculous little gizmo recently developed by the good people at Apple. Besides my meditations, there are photos, music, and all sorts of useful things crammed into it.
There are also five books magically waiting the tap of a finger. One is a user’s manual. The other four are in the public domain and I downloaded them for free. There’s ‘Creative Unity’ by Rabindranath Tagore, filled with wonders of the spirit, next ‘The Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer’, which I haven’t had the time or energy to crack open, so to speak. Then there’s a digital copy of Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’ and the ‘Tao Te King’.
Digital money and digital books. And once more the question of relative value.
Of course there’s the old saw, ‘Time is Money.’ We trade our time, our precious time, for money, so as to provide the necessities and a few other things of life.
Books require a certain investment of time too. Or what is contained in them, at any rate. Giants of the spirit leave us their experiences, their reflections, their visions of Life. It is all out there, food for the soul.
It’s all just ink on paper, value it as we will.
Money seems to have gained the upper hand these days. But is the pendulum swinging back?