Thursday, 28 November 2019

Pixel to Paper - Clémentine Beauvais

 When I was fourteen, I got my first mobile phone. It was a Nokia 3410, and it could save no more than 10 text messages. Which meant, really, that you could only save 9, because you had to leave one permanently free space for any new text message that might come in. 
even when you'd left that one space free, 
if the new incoming text was more than one message long, it would be cut in the middle, so you'd have to delete the first part, and then the second part would arrive - maybe - but not always, because the ether was capricious, and sometimes you stared at your phone in Sturm and Drang of Wertherite intensity because the first message said something like, 'hey clementine ;) just so u know i think ur really' and you'd be thinking REALLY WHAT?!!! REALLY WHAT!?!!! and hate every single thing in the world while waiting for that second part of the message to arrive,

but anyway,
the 9-message limit also meant that you had to sacrifice some really quite gorgeous little SMS declarations, such as 'hey clementine just so u know i think ur really my best friend lol', in order to make space for even more gorgeous ones. Such as ambiguous, erotically charged, awkwardly poetic things by boys. Not many, so each was treasured. And also, out of loyalty, filial love and no small amount of superstitious thinking, you had to leave at least One Of Mummy's Texts, such as 'have a lovely day my darling', which, although not as erotically charged as texts by handsome geeky love interests, felt like something of a talisman for the Nokia or something.

So what we did was copy down texts onto bits of paper, e.g. a notebook, our diary, pink A5 notecards, anything. We had lots of SMS archived that way. We would write them down in our best cursive handwriting, with those weird little circles that girls dot their i's with. Why do girls dot their i's with little circles? Everywhere and always, little circles. 
We copied them down and today I still have written-down text messages in faded ink, no fragrance left at all from those gel pens that cost so much, and every smiley was copied down too: as punctuation, of course, :) , ;) , :(, :'-(, as it was in the text message itself. 

(This is leading somewhere, I promise.)
In my current incarnation as a 30-year-old, I no longer spend much time (or any at all) copying down text messages; instead, I spend a lot of time reading other people's writing, because I supervise MA projects for the master's in creative writing at the Université du Havre in France. One of my students this year is writing about adolescence, and she's maybe 8-10 years younger than me - and in her novel she wrote that:

as a teenager, what she did was print out Facebook conversations to stick them into notebooks and decorate them with pens and felt tips. 
From writing down SMS texts to printing out the internet, clearly we as teenagers felt the need to turn pixel into paper, to write down and stick down and anchor into the real world those words that were infinitely precious but that we already knew, somehow, to be evanescent.
I'd be grateful if you told me what Young People These Days (YPTDs) do. Do they do anything like that? Do they order photoalbums of Snapchat screenshots through VistaPrint? Do they draw beautiful watercolours of Instagram posts? Do they transcribe TikTok videos, complete with stage directions and director's commentary, into the margins of their maths exercise books?
And those once young people who are far from young today, what did they do with, say, telephone conversations? Take furious notes, archive them into diaries, sought to record them, to pin them down, too? When did youth begin to try to archive its own transient conversations?
How does everyone somehow seem to bump into the same solutions?
I would love to visit a museum of innocence with walls covered with the patient scribbles and yellowed printouts of those SMS conversations and Facebook threads of yore. All that is left today of the electronic words, curated by the recipients. The conscientious selection self-explanatory sometimes, and sometimes obscured by private jokes long forgotten, or only half remembered. The touching transformations from pixel to paper.

Clémentine Beauvais is a writer and literary translator. Her YA novels in English are Piglettes (Pushkin, 2017) and In Paris with You (trans. Sam Taylor, Faber, 2018). She has also written a picturebook illustrated by Maisie Paradise Shearring, Hello, Monster! (Thames and Hudson, 2018).

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