Sunday, July 15, 2012

Book alike

XEROX is God’s gift to Philippine education.

Walking through the shopping complex situated in this campus, I see that more than half the stalls are into “copy reproduction.” Following, in dwindling prominence, are eateries, optical shops, school supplies and a parlor. Surprise: the last place does not cater to funerals.

Perhaps because this is the heart of academia, I don’t overhear anyone committing the faux pas of turning a brand into a verb: “Pa-Xerox ng chapters 1 to 16, one copy only”.

Xerox, though, is everyone’s open grey secret. Grey because everyone feels justified in violating the intellectual property rights of some Ivy League schmuck writing and publishing in the US of A or some other dominion in the oppressively affluent First World, which, by rights, should bear the burden of sharing 90 percent of the world’s wealth with 90 percent of the global population, in particular their brothers and sisters in the poor, oppressed but not unresourceful academia of the Third World.

Though I had my first meal here in campus, I now avoid the place. It’s not just because the coop canteen serves hotter, larger and cheaper helpings.

When I enter the complex, the smell of paper, ink and some other chemical—stress, panic, the fear of 5.0 ulcerating in sleepless imaginations that have yet to read 32 chapters—shoves aside the aroma of fish fillet, black beans and ampalaya.

The rhythmic click-clack of metal trays catching and disgorging reams of readings drowns every other sound like the mighty sonorous exhortations of a pumping metallic heart keeping everyone alive, barely, until the next meeting. The aftermath of a power failure defeats imagination.

Trying to eat here and achieve that zoned-out state of chewing food on an empty mind is just that: another mortal striving.

For of human agonies, there’s no end of the “reproduction”. If you lack sleep, you are bound to see every passing face as that of the classmate who has such a perfidiously pluperfect command of your assignments, she alone can answer the professor after rereading the bottom end note in the last chapter found on the 61st page.

And I used to love reading. And writing.

The day, though, I ordered a back-up copy of my one-page assignment, I heard a terrible roar. It sounded like a multi-vehicle pileup on the SLEX when the road turned slippery after a truck spilled with all its egg cargo.

Or it could have been the coughing from the queue behind me. On campus, one normally walks away with at least a ream of copies carefully tucked away. I felt like a kid with a notecard walking into a conference of PowerPoint presenters.

In the age of virtual learning, why is the photocopier still lording over, a technological alpha male?

Some professors are saints. They scan and upload next week’s readings a semester before. Yet, for a traditional reader like me, reading a screen is penance for a crime I have yet to commit. After 10 minutes of scrolling up and down a 15-page abstract visible in my five-inch screen, I get slot-machine eyes and my comprehension is terminal.

Simple is out, unless it’s torture. Academic writers are tougher than lawyers. Just when you think you can summarize what they’re pontificating about, they pull out densities of language and meaning, such as: “transnational media… provide their diasporas symbolic resources to create ‘new ethnicities’ that empower local meanings”.

To be empowered, virtual orphans and academic underlings like me run to the Man with a finger on the button for speed copying. The stiffness of a freshly copied set of readings can deeply console, whether one actually reads and makes notes on it, or one simply holds it up when the professor is firing off questions like a sniper and in taking cover behind the sheaf of papers, one realizes that this was so last week’s readings.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebus July 8, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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