We updated the post calvin’s website this week, which, predictably, renewed my appreciation for books and filled me with something like sehnsucht. Most things do.

Sehnsucht (German): Thoughts and feelings about unfinished or imperfect parts life, paired with a yearning for ideal alternative experiences. Referred to as “life’s longings,” or a search for happiness while coping with the reality of unattainable wishes. Sehnsucht tends to be accompanied by both positive and negative feelings and is often described as an ambiguous emotional occurrence.

We gave the website a new font (Caslon, the same as in the anthology) and equipped it with a new hierarchy of font sizes, a slightly more striking homepage, and better formatting on the resources and archives and about pages. We added more mobile-specific functionality, too. You can open this page on a computer and a phone and play spot-the-differences: three related posts instead of four, a sidebar instead of a long footer, an extra photo in that blue-background section about the book.

Websites used to send the same static pages to everyone, with predetermined pixels and content mortared in place like bricks. If you took an iPhone back to 1999, you’d have to zoom and scroll horizontally like a barbarian, even for pre-Y2K giants like Yahoo!. In the 2000s, after smartphones entered the picture, web developers started bragging about their mobile-friendly sites, which featured code written specifically for phone-sized screens. A website in tune with the times had two versions: one for users at a desk, another for users on the go.

With the introduction of tablets and a cacophony of smartphone sizes, “responsive” websites became the sleek new thing. Forget two versions—responsive websites offered unlimited. If you’re reading this on a computer, you can see responsiveness by clicking and dragging the edge of your screen. As you change the size of the window, text will rearrange, things will move from place to place, and fonts will shrink or grow. Whatever the screen size, a responsive website will fit it. This was cutting-edge a decade ago; now, it’s assumed. In October of 2016, globally, mobile internet use surpassed desktop internet use. Our own post calvin readers were ahead of that curve:

Month Device Percentage of visits Number of visits
July 2013 Desktop 88.53% 2138
Mobile 8.94% 216
Tablet 2.53% 61
July 2014 Desktop 56.66% 1702
Mobile 35.09% 1054
Tablet 8.26% 248
July 2015 Desktop 55.21% 2942
Mobile 39.37% 2098
Tablet 5.42% 289
July 2016 Desktop 37.90% 2724
Mobile 55.72% 4005
Tablet 6.39% 459
July 2017 Desktop 30.81% 2789
Mobile 63.55% 5753
Tablet 5.64% 511

I suppose other variables affect these numbers, like growing readership and the introduction of our Facebook page, but mobile is no longer the way of the future. Two-to-one, people prefer the convenience of a phone.

I can read any major website in a format designed specifically for my Nexus 5X, and I can do it almost anywhere. I’ve read post calvin pieces while stuck in traffic. I’ve posted to Instagram from a mountaintop. Websites have adapted to fit my browsing habits. Website developers have adapted to fit my browsing habits. Designers and phone manufacturers and technology industries have adapted to fit my browsing habits. This is where the sehnsucht comes in. Predictably, again, book-related sehnsucht.

When I open a book, I see the same thing I saw the last time and will see the next time. The same words, font, layout, and size, and all of it as permanent as paper, unaffected by responsiveness or browsing habits. Everyone reads a book the same way. On every page in homes and stores and libraries, the same content. The same cover. The same required way to flip through the pages. Your adventure is chosen.

The fairness and insensitivity of this feels reassuring, like weather or death. Something I cannot change. Something that does not care about me.

I don’t mean to turn this into some argument against technology or another search for Truth. It’s just appreciation for physical things. Appreciation for something that makes me adapt, instead of the other way around. And also for new things. I like books, and I like the convenience of a phone. Maybe I’m a hypocritical Luddite, but I think there’s room for both in this ambiguous emotional occurrence.

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