When highlights are created on any Kindle device, they are synced up to Amazon’s cloud. These are then visible at kindle.amazon.com, but there is no reason to believe that Amazon will continue to provide this service forever, and our ability to work with text in that hosted browser-based environment is limited.
We wanted a way cleanly to download our highlights onto our local computers, so we created a bookmarklet that permits one to excise highlights from the book’s kindle.amazon.com page.
In the interests of, well, tinkering with little tools made by smart people on The Internet, I decided to export my highlights from a book I read recently.
I mentioned yesterday how I’ve been enjoying highlighting interesting passages from Michael Palin’s diaries on my Kindle. This, being from a large book, is now quite a long list of highlights – usually a reference to a project of his, a place he visited that rang a bell, or just a particularly sweet or poignant observation.
More concise is my collection of highlights from Leigh Alexander‘s recent book, Breathing Machine. Leigh is a videogames journalist, and after reading a few of her pieces on Animal Crossing and some other stuff, I found that she’d recently released a short collection of memoirs recalling her childhood, adolescence, and the holding hand that videogames and the Internet provided her throughout.
Basically, if you’re a human being of a certain age (late twenties, early thirties?), and you grew up with computers and the burgeoning web, you’ll probably get a kick out of Leigh’s book. You can actually listen to Leigh reading an excerpt of her book via Soundcloud if you like – I recommend it. It’s always good to hear an author read their own words when they’re autobiographical.
I’ve used the above Bookcision tool to export my highlights of Leigh’s book, which can be found below. I’m not too sure what use these highlights may serve to anyone who isn’t, say, me, but I figured I’d try out the tool anyway. Out of context highlights might not even make much sense, but the lines tickled or interested me for whatever reason. Enjoy:
by Leigh Alexander, Thought Catalog
The first time I ever heard and remembered Beethoven’s Ode To Joy was at the start screen of one of these games, blaring at me from the tinny speakers. I’m not ever going to forget that.
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It was the broken games I truly loved. They all had weird version numbers (1.1.3?), and were stamped all over with the aliases of dejected bedroom weirdoes asking you to mail in five dollars, sometimes plaintively, sometimes cynically.
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The more legitimate games had copy protection: they shipped with special red plastic lenses, or code wheels, or guidebooks with letter puzzles, and you needed them to unlock the software. This felt like its own kind of mystery-work
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I watched it all happen: grinding plastic teeth, the pages still gleaming with black spit.
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I pulled a map of Manhattan out of my grandmother’s National Geographic magazine, and pasted it on the wall of my playroom. I printed out screenshots from Hotel Caper, and made pretend dossiers of the villains I would chase down once I arrived there.
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The marketing to kids around video games had begun to take a distinct turn, then: glossy magazines full of bright laser grids, skateboards, spiked hair. Raaaadical. We believed in the neon-nineties vision of the future, where we were basically just about to get hoverboards and become heroes.
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It was in our plans, our notes, our basement boxes full of junked motherboards. The plans felt real.
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My dad let me have a hand-me-down Powerbook laptop when I was eleven or twelve. The thing I remember most about this machine (besides its role in keeping my innermost thoughts, my diary, across years of secret and now-defunct Word docs), is how when I stroked its screen with my fingertip, a bright prismatic comet would appear, a temporary wound opening up and leaving a fading, smoky contrail in its place.
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its role in keeping my innermost thoughts, my diary, across years of secret and now-defunct Word docs),
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things I didn’t really understand: viruses, made by impossibly-distant master architects.
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I quietly fell in love with the cloistered and quickly-obsolescing Powerbook, disconnected and safe.
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I loved experimenting with it. I could make those robot-voices say anything I wanted, without fear of reprisal, which was new.
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Many of the adventure games of my childhood knew that your average person, wrestling with an invisible system, would eventually type vulgar words, and so contained provisions to chide you if you cursed. The strangely-pitched robot voices had no such reservations.
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I found a primitive old program somewhere on the Powerbook called America Online. An early version, maybe even the first one. I knew it was for getting to the Internet, though I didn’t know exactly how, what. I was dimly aware it needed some kind of connection to something else, and that I couldn’t just load the program from where I would be bundled with my machine in bed. This did not, of course, stop me from trying. I believed in magic, of course, and wasn’t technology as mysterious as fantasy? The stuff of sprawling paperback novels where the veils between worlds blurred, and you could become a hero in a strange land just by accidentally touching something, by being in the right place at the right time, by knowing the right word to open a previously-unseen door. I’d breathlessly load the America Online program on my monolithic Powerbook, in the dark of my room. Three pictures would pop up on a loading screen: a skeleton key, a logo, and… a globe, maybe? I can’t remember. In my memory they become coarse alien buttons, indigo unreality. I know for sure there was a vein of lightning that moved from one icon to the next, always stopping before reaching the final third. ERROR. I knew. I knew something was missing, but I continued to try regardless. I knew the difference between the real and the imagined and chose to ignore it. What if I pressed something at exactly the right time? What if I found a hidden panel of some kind on the hardware itself, like the time I found a terrifying reset-knob within a pinhole on the Powerbook’s back, pressed it with a paperclip and evinced a dissonant chiming song that I’d never hear again? What if I held my breath, what if I counted, kept my eyes shut. What if I prayed. Nothing worked. Because I had no connection, that image of a key struck by digital lightning would always be where my adventure would end.
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before reaching the final third. ERROR. I knew. I knew something was missing, but I continued to try regardless. I knew the difference between the real and the imagined and chose to ignore it. What if I pressed something at exactly the right time? What if I found a hidden panel of some kind on the hardware itself, like the time I found a terrifying reset-knob within a pinhole on the Powerbook’s back, pressed it with a paperclip and evinced a dissonant chiming song that I’d never hear again? What if I held my breath, what if I counted, kept my eyes shut. What if I prayed. Nothing worked. Because I had no connection, that image of a key struck by digital lightning would always be where my adventure would end.
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Dialing modem. A sequence of guttural, choking shrieks, a hiccup, a pause, some single eye in the hardware fluttering as if it contained an insect. Shrill chirps, a nebulous staticky monster croaking to get out. Just when you think it’s done, it screams again.
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I’d be crouched by the modem in the dark. It’d be late. It’s not that I wasn’t supposed to be awake. I was 13 years old, and no one could really tell me when to go to bed. I’d started nurturing the spark of an idea in my casing that no one, really, ought to tell me anything, anymore.
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The first time I was allowed to use Internet newsgroups, it was like suddenly noticing it was dark enough to see stars. All at once, a startling array of possibilities seemed to erupt in front of me.
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Flee back into late-night, then, my little hands strangling a shrieking and green-eyed modem-animal, smothering it with blankets and pillows so that no one would hear it and send me back to bed. It connects. The part that was missing when I was younger is now present,
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At the crux of my adolescence I was firstname.lastname@example.org. I could never-ever forget it, the secret name that let me interlope among Usenet boards like rec.arts.poetry, alt.music.nirvana, and rec.arts.sailormoon.
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Stand in front of the fridge, a monolith that sighs in your face. Engage the microwave. Eat too much, guiltily, standing up, half in and half out of cabinets, ravenous teenage appetite knitted tightly with the pains of all kinds of growth. Meticulously leave no sign of your presence; erase your data, no debt to be accountable for later. Run up the stairs, two at a time.
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The modem screams and howls as always, but there’s no one to hear it right now. There’s just you, watching the tiny rectangular window that promises you a connection is being made. Dialing, establishing, testing, whatever the phases, you hold your breath.
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You opened your little Eudora mailbox and prayed for something to be there. You usually had one piece of mail. Sometimes two. On a good day there would be three, and you’d meditate with anticipation upon the black bar that stuttered along, telling you about download progress. 1 of 3. 2 of 3. 3 of 3.
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A trawl through Google Groups’ uncomfortably long-lived archives while researching this book reveals that young Delilah took the title of alt.destroy.the.earth with an excess of seriousness and chastised everyone involved.
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Through the rec.arts.poetry board I met an older man, 30 or 31 years old, if memory serves. At the time, such an age seemed incredibly old, such as to give me pause. Nonetheless I chose — nobly, I felt at the time — to overlook such mortifying superficialities and pursue what felt like a romantic correspondence with this fellow poet, who was so old. Surely a fellowship in Internet poetry was more important than anything else.
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I had a little reservation, though — what if my new Internet boyfriend was, like, old like my Dad? At fourteen, thirty-something seemed like practically my Dad’s age! What if, I wondered, he had gray hair? Surely his body wasn’t the smooth, abstracted elfin landscape of my dolls and my fantasy comics; at his age, surely there were paternal ruffs of hair and flesh. Maybe even a beard.
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Eventually the fellow poet and I began to escalate into arguing about something. I can’t remember why, and I can’t remember what it is I said, only that he chastised me for being immature, and I replied something to the effect of, “well, of course I am, I’m only fucking 14.” To his credit, he was mortified, apologized profusely, said something like he “meant no disrespect,” a sentiment that confused me at the time. He said he’d thought I was “at least in college,” and as I distinctly recall, he wrote, “me and my middle-aged ass.” Well, I thought, and now you know, and everything is all right and we can go back to saying sweet things to one another, and a little note from you in my Eudora Mail inbox after school. But the fellow poet stopped replying.
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Several months later, Old Guy surfaced on the poetry newsgroup again, presenting something I read distinctly as a whimsical love poem. It referred to his “whiskers” (aha, I thought, I was right about the horrible old beard), and contained the phrase “hop all over your back.” I read the poem closely to see if it might be about me, Delilah, but no evidence presented itself.
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I liked the college student better, anyway. Recently I had the sudden whim to Google the first and last name of the romantic poet, which I still remember. I found the very grey-bearded author of a lot of pro-life books with web copy focused on “taking responsibility for the sex act.” It can’t be the same man. It just can’t. I also Googled the college student. Now he’s a music journalist. Wicked.
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When is the last time you said “www” out loud, ‘double-yew double-yew double-yew-dot.’ Unironically. World Wide Web. The phrase is so quintessential to the lexicon of the modern West that it’s funny to go hey, wait, let’s pin that down — World Wide Web. Some spider-kin network that spreads around the entire world. How far did the Internet’s fuzzy-legged arachnotendrils reach when I was 14? 16? Not the whole world. Not even every house I knew in suburbia had the Internet, at first. That phrase, that innocently-spoken World Wide! was a promise of potential, not reality.
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And the early Web was a simulacrum of reality, a dim Western fantasy of virtual space cobbled together from chunky, artifacted graphics. You browsed the web with Netscape Navigator, like a starship captain (modern browsers still bear the rust taste of frontier spirit, with names like Explorer, Safari). Primitive chat lobbies were called things like The Meeting Room, the Lobby, the Cafe, as if you were always, always entering a real place, there to meet real people.
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Sign my guestbook, they begged. Guestbooks. Little virtual visitor’s logs. At one time it seemed almost every website had one. Now, none of them do.
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Exploring these spaces was half luck, half skill. You found the sites you wanted by ambient clicking, a zen-like pilgrimage through forum signatures and sidebars. Or you could use primitive search engines, of which there were many: Lycos. Metacrawler, dominated by a graphic of a giant hairy spider, Dogpile, Excite, Infoseek, Alta Vista.
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Each service would return a different sequence of results than another, and so you would visit all of them in sequence, type in what you wanted to find, never able to expect the same recommendations.
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before I realized it was pronounced GEO CITIES, like cities of the globe, and not Geocities as in rhymes with curiosities.
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(Uniform Resource Locator, and if that isn’t a Holodeck-era acronym I don’t know what is)
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You can remember the first truly horrific image you ever saw online, can’t you?
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A man wincing, his face pinched and deformed, seeming to warp against the barrel of an executing gun. A woman spread out in a bathtub, gripping her stockinged thighs, a fount of amber bile arcing as vivid as carved stone from one of her orifices to another. Thirty seconds of a .avi file — a naked woman on all fours blinking doe-like from a dark hotel bed. No, wait, a young girl. Younger than young. Oh, my god. Sick. Sick.
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Did you seek it out, the sensation of the bottom dropping out from your guts, the wondering is it real and can they really and who the fuck? Did you stumble into it entirely by accident, or through the sin of completely unguarded curiosity?
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Just a picture of me, smoking, late teens, fully clothed, was pornography to someone. My socks were worth money. This is what I had learned about men and sex from the Internet by the time I had graduated high school.
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Internet boyfriends and girlfriends, intimacy with the convenience of distance, intimacy that never has to be challenged by the responsibilities of reality.
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I wrote other students’ papers for them in exchange for baggies of weed, and spent what felt like an interminable length my life on a quaint campus, in a tiny room, online, all the time.
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In the gaps between playtimes, you could occasionally glimpse all our comparatively-powerless, childlike lives: Old enough to drink, but still living with our parents, or with someone who acted as parent. I knew far too many teenagers getting money and gifts from adults they knew online, via arrangements that seemed passionately dysfunctional and dark and beyond my ken.
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By the new millennium our idea of wizardry had little to do with capes and wands, and everything to do with black leather, wearable tech, and the glamour of lightning-fast fingers weaving spells across glass and light, or the kind of cascading ASCII sigils, green-glowing on black, that I remembered from my childhood devotionals to the Apple ][e computer.
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The first computer-centric kids’ cartoon I can remember was ReBoot, which started airing when I was adolescent, featuring the stunning innovation of CGI animation, the first show of its kind. People “went in the game,” became characters, lived humanoid lives inside of mainframes.
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The first thing people make in an online world, when they can make anything, is a house. In Second Life’s heyday, West Coast millennial dream homes sprouted all over the place like mushrooms: Seaside modern architecture with swimming pools, glass fronts, arcing ferns, natural wood. In a place where any ideal can be built, a depressing aspirational median emerges. Inside the house, all users put a chair. Why, Yee poses, do virtual worlds need chairs if virtual bodies never need to sit down?
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