Thursday, August 14, 2008


When I was in grade school, I loved breaking open the plastic wrap on the newest National Geographic Magazine and taking a big whiff of the ink-laden brick. I did the cursory flip-book flutter of the block of pages while holding the magazine binder-side up, ensuring that the included map would fall into my hand. I'd read the map title and proceed with the unfolding. Each map was always two-sided; the area geography lived on one side of the map and the cultural, political or environmental information slurpee took up the opposing face. I could spend hours reading both, but I'd usually end up mesmerized by the geographic face, yet disappointed that the map retained the crease marks of square folding.

As I'm no longer in a place to redo my second place finish in the Estabrook School round of the National Geographic Geography Bee, I no longer receive the National Geographic Magazine. However, yesterday I flipped to the NatGeo television channel during an Olympic lull. I'm sure that the program was interesting, but I was struck most by the lack of sensory experience. The magazine is obviously visual, but it's also tactile (the plastic tear and the page flutter), makes a great sound during that flutter, and has the potent fresh magazine smell. Can the television or internet ever deliver a comparable range of sense titillation? Is there a digital medium that delivers anything close to this expected serendipity?

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